Economics: Principles and Policy, 11th Edition

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Economics: Principles and Policy, 11th Edition

ECONOMICS Principles and Policy Eleventh Edition 2010 Update William J. Baumol New York University and Princeton Univer

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ECONOMICS Principles and Policy Eleventh Edition 2010 Update

William J. Baumol New York University and Princeton University

Alan S. Blinder Princeton University

Australia • Brazil • Japan • Korea • Mexico • Singapore • Spain • United Kingdom • United States

Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

Economics: Principles and Policy, Eleventh Edition 2010 Update William J. Baumol, Alan S. Blinder VP Editorial Director: Jack W. Calhoun Publisher: Joe Sabatino Executive Editor: Michael Worls Supervising Developmental Editor: Katie Yanos Editorial Assistant: Lena Mortis Senior Marketing Manager: John Carey Senior Marketing Communications Manager: Sarah Greber Marketing Coordinator: Suellen Ruttkay Media Editor: Deepak Kumar Director, Content and Media Production: Barbara Fuller Jacobsen Content Project Manager: Emily Nesheim Senior Frontlist Buyer, Manufacturing: Sandee Milewski Production Service: Pre-PressPMG Senior Art Director: Michelle Kunkler Cover and Internal Designer: Lisa Albonetti Cover Images: © Getty Images; © First Light Associated Photographers, Inc. Senior Rights Acquisitions Account Manager, Text: Mardell Glinski Schultz Text Permissions Researcher: Sue Howard

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Brief Contents Preface xxvii About the Authors xxxi

PART 1

GETTING ACQUAINTED WITH ECONOMICS Chapter Chapter Chapter Chapter

PART 2

THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF DEMAND AND SUPPLY Chapter Chapter Chapter Chapter Chapter

PART 3

Consumer Choice: Individual and Market Demand 83 Demand and Elasticity 107 Production, Inputs, and Cost: Building Blocks for Supply Analysis 127 Output, Price, and Profit: The Importance of Marginal Analysis 155 Investing in Business: Stocks and Bonds 177

10 11 12 13

The Firm and the Industry under Perfect Competition 197 Monopoly 217 Between Competition and Monopoly 235 Limiting Market Power: Regulation and Antitrust 263

THE VIRTUES AND LIMITATIONS OF MARKETS Chapter Chapter Chapter Chapter Chapter

PART 5

5 6 7 8 9

MARKETS AND THE PRICE SYSTEM Chapter Chapter Chapter Chapter

PART 4

1 What Is Economics? 3 2 The Economy: Myth and Reality 21 3 The Fundamental Economic Problem: Scarcity and Choice 39 4 Supply and Demand: An Initial Look 55

14 15 16 17 18

The Case for Free Markets I: The Price System 287 The Shortcomings of Free Markets 309 The Market’s Prime Achievement: Innovation and Growth 333 Externalities, the Environment, and Natural Resources 355 Taxation and Resource Allocation 377

THE DISTRIBUTION OF INCOME Chapter 19 Pricing the Factors of Production 397 Chapter 20 Labor and Entrepreneurship: The Human Inputs 419 Chapter 21 Poverty, Inequality, and Discrimination 445

v

Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

vi

Brief Contents

PART 6

THE MACROECONOMY: AGGREGATE SUPPLY AND DEMAND Chapter Chapter Chapter Chapter Chapter Chapter

PART 7

22 23 24 25 26 27

An Introduction to Macroeconomics 467 The Goals of Macroeconomic Policy 489 Economic Growth: Theory and Policy 517 Aggregate Demand and the Powerful Consumer 537 Demand-Side Equilibrium: Unemployment or Inflation? 559 Bringing in the Supply Side: Unemployment and Inflation? 583

FISCAL AND MONETARY POLICY Chapter Chapter Chapter Chapter Chapter Chapter

PART 8

28 29 30 31 32 33

Managing Aggregate Demand: Fiscal Policy 605 Money and the Banking System 625 Managing Aggregate Demand: Monetary Policy 645 The Debate over Monetary and Fiscal Policy 661 Budget Deficits in the Short and Long Run 683 The Trade-Off between Inflation and Unemployment 701

THE UNITED STATES IN THE WORLD ECONOMY Chapter 34 International Trade and Comparative Advantage 723 Chapter 35 The International Monetary System:Order or Disorder? 745 Chapter 36 Exchange Rates and the Macroeconomy 763

PART 9

POSTSCRIPT: THE FINANCIAL CRISIS OF 2007–2009 Chapter 37 The Financial Crisis and the Great Recession 779

| APPENDIX | Answers to Odd-Numbered Test Yourself Questions 795

Glossary 813 Index 825

Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

Table of Contents Preface xxvii About the Authors xxxi

PART 1

GETTING ACQUAINTED WITH ECONOMICS 1

Chapter 1

What Is Economics? 3

IDEAS FOR BEYOND THE FINAL EXAM 4 Idea 1: How Much Does It Really Cost? 4 Idea 2: Attempts to Repeal the Laws of Supply and Demand—The Market Strikes Back 5 Idea 3: The Surprising Principle of Comparative Advantage 5 Idea 4: Trade Is a Win–Win Situation 5 Idea 5: The Importance of Thinking at the Margin 6 Idea 6: Externalities—A Shortcoming of the Market Cured by Market Methods 6 Idea 7: The Trade-Off between Efficiency and Equality 7 Idea 8: Government Policies Can Limit Economic Fluctuations—But Don’t Always Succeed 7 Idea 9: The Short-Run Trade-Off between Inflation and Unemployment 7 Idea 10: Productivity Growth Is (Almost) Everything in the Long Run 8 Epilogue 8

INSIDE THE ECONOMIST’S TOOL KIT 8 Economics as a Discipline 8 The Need for Abstraction 8 The Role of Economic Theory 11 What Is an Economic Model? 12 Reasons for Disagreements: Imperfect Information and Value Judgments 12 Summary 13 Key Terms 14 Discussion Questions 14

| APPENDIX | Using Graphs: A Review 14 GRAPHS USED IN ECONOMIC ANALYSIS 14 TWO-VARIABLE DIAGRAMS 14 THE DEFINITION AND MEASUREMENT OF SLOPE 15 RAYS THROUGH THE ORIGIN AND 45° LINES 17 SQUEEZING THREE DIMENSIONS INTO TWO: CONTOUR MAPS 18 Summary 19 Key Terms 19 Test Yourself 20

Chapter 2

The Economy: Myth and Reality 21

THE AMERICAN ECONOMY: A THUMBNAIL SKETCH 22 A Private-Enterprise Economy 23 A Relatively “Closed” Economy 23 A Growing Economy . . . 24 But with Bumps along the Growth Path 24

THE INPUTS: LABOR AND CAPITAL 26 The American Workforce: Who Is in It? 27 The American Workforce: What Does It Do? 28 The American Workforce: What It Earns 29 Capital and Its Earnings 30

THE OUTPUTS: WHAT DOES AMERICA PRODUCE? 30 THE CENTRAL ROLE OF BUSINESS FIRMS 31 Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

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WHAT’S MISSING FROM THE PICTURE? GOVERNMENT 32 The Government as Referee 33 The Government as Business Regulator 33 Government Expenditures 34 Taxes in America 35 The Government as Redistributor 35

CONCLUSION: IT’S A MIXED ECONOMY 36 Summary 36 Key Terms 36 Discussion Questions 37

Chapter 3

The Fundamental Economic Problem: Scarcity and Choice 39

ISSUE: WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE BUDGET DEFICIT? 40

SCARCITY, CHOICE, AND OPPORTUNITY COST 40 Opportunity Cost and Money Cost 41 Optimal Choice: Not Just Any Choice 42

SCARCITY AND CHOICE FOR A SINGLE FIRM 42 The Production Possibilities Frontier 43 The Principle of Increasing Costs 44

SCARCITY AND CHOICE FOR THE ENTIRE SOCIETY 45 Scarcity and Choice Elsewhere in the Economy 45

ISSUE REVISITED: COPING WITH THE BUDGET DEFICIT 46

THE CONCEPT OF EFFICIENCY 46 THE THREE COORDINATION TASKS OF ANY ECONOMY 47 TASK 1. HOW THE MARKET FOSTERS EFFICIENT RESOURCE ALLOCATION 48 The Wonders of the Division of Labor 48 The Amazing Principle of Comparative Advantage 49

TASK 2. MARKET EXCHANGE AND DECIDING HOW MUCH OF EACH GOOD TO PRODUCE 50 TASK 3. HOW TO DISTRIBUTE THE ECONOMY’S OUTPUTS AMONG CONSUMERS 50 Summary 52 Key Terms 53 Test Yourself 53 Discussion Questions 53

Chapter 4

Supply and Demand: An Initial Look

55

PUZZLE: WHAT HAPPENED TO OIL PRICES? 56

THE INVISIBLE HAND 56 DEMAND AND QUANTITY DEMANDED 57 The Demand Schedule 58 The Demand Curve 58 Shifts of the Demand Curve 58

SUPPLY AND QUANTITY SUPPLIED 61 The Supply Schedule and the Supply Curve 61 Shifts of the Supply Curve 62

SUPPLY AND DEMAND EQUILIBRIUM 64 The Law of Supply and Demand 66

EFFECTS OF DEMAND SHIFTS ON SUPPLY-DEMAND EQUILIBRIUM 66 SUPPLY SHIFTS AND SUPPLY-DEMAND EQUILIBRIUM 67 PUZZLE RESOLVED: THOSE LEAPING OIL PRICES 68 Application: Who Really Pays That Tax? 69

BATTLING THE INVISIBLE HAND: THE MARKET FIGHTS BACK 70 Restraining the Market Mechanism: Price Ceilings 70 Case Study: Rent Controls in New York City 72 Restraining the Market Mechanism: Price Floors 73

Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

Contents

Case Study: Farm Price Supports and the Case of Sugar Prices 73 A Can of Worms 74

A SIMPLE BUT POWERFUL LESSON 76 Summary 76 Key Terms 77 Test Yourself 77 Discussion Questions 78

PART 2

THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF DEMAND AND SUPPLY 81

Chapter 5

Consumer Choice: Individual and Market Demand 83

PUZZLE: WHY SHOULDN’T WATER BE WORTH MORE THAN DIAMONDS? 84

SCARCITY AND DEMAND 84 UTILITY: A TOOL TO ANALYZE PURCHASE DECISIONS 85 The Purpose of Utility Analysis: Analyzing How People Behave, Not What They Think 85 Total versus Marginal Utility 86 The “Law” of Diminishing Marginal Utility 86 Using Marginal Utility: The Optimal Purchase Rule 87 From Diminishing Marginal Utility to Downward-Sloping Demand Curves 90

BEHAVIORAL ECONOMICS: ARE ECONOMIC DECISIONS REALLY MADE “RATIONALITY”? 92 CONSUMER CHOICE AS A TRADE-OFF: OPPORTUNITY COST 92 Consumer’s Surplus: The Net Gain from a Purchase 93

PUZZLE: RESOLVING THE DIAMOND–WATER PUZZLE 95 Income and Quantity Demanded 95

FROM INDIVIDUAL DEMAND CURVES TO MARKET DEMAND CURVES 96 Market Demand as a Horizontal Sum of the Demand Curves of Individual Buyers 96 The “Law” of Demand 97 Exceptions to the “Law” of Demand 97 Summary 98 Key Terms 99 Test Yourself 99 Discussion Questions 99

| APPENDIX | Analyzing Consumer Choice Graphically: Indifference Curve Analysis 99 GEOMETRY OF AVAILABLE CHOICES: THE BUDGET LINE 100 Properties of the Budget Line 100 Changes in the Budget Line 101

WHAT THE CONSUMER PREFERS: PROPERTIES OF THE INDIFFERENCE CURVE 101 THE SLOPES OF INDIFFERENCE CURVES AND BUDGET LINES 103 Tangency Conditions 104 Consequences of Income Changes: Inferior Goods 104 Consequences of Price Changes: Deriving the Demand Curve 105 Summary 106 Key Terms 106 Test Yourself 106

Chapter 6

Demand and Elasticity 107

ISSUE: WILL TAXING CIGARETTES MAKE TEENAGERS STOP SMOKING? 108

ELASTICITY: THE MEASURE OF RESPONSIVENESS 108 Price Elasticity of Demand and the Shapes of Demand Curves 111

PRICE ELASTICITY OF DEMAND: ITS EFFECT ON TOTAL REVENUE AND TOTAL EXPENDITURE 113 ISSUE REVISITED: WILL A CIGARETTE TAX DECREASE TEENAGE SMOKING SIGNIFICANTLY? 114

WHAT DETERMINES DEMAND ELASTICITY? 115 ELASTICITY AS A GENERAL CONCEPT 116 1. Income Elasticity 116 2. Price Elasticity of Supply 117 3. Cross Elasticity of Demand 117 Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

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THE TIME PERIOD OF THE DEMAND CURVE AND ECONOMIC DECISION MAKING 118 REAL-WORLD APPLICATION: POLAROID VERSUS KODAK 120 IN CONCLUSION 121 Summary 121 Key Terms 121 Test Yourself 121 Discussion Questions 122

| APPENDIX | How Can We Find a Legitimate Demand Curve from Historical Statistics? 122 AN ILLUSTRATION: DID THE ADVERTISING PROGRAM WORK? 123 HOW CAN WE FIND A LEGITIMATE DEMAND CURVE FROM THE STATISTICS? 124

Chapter 7

Production, Inputs, and Cost: Building Blocks for Supply Analysis 127

PUZZLE: HOW CAN WE TELL IF LARGER FIRMS ARE MORE EFFICIENT? 128

SHORT-RUN VERSUS LONG-RUN COSTS: WHAT MAKES AN INPUT VARIABLE? 128 The Economic Short Run versus the Economic Long Run 129 Fixed Costs and Variable Costs 129

PRODUCTION, INPUT CHOICE, AND COST WITH ONE VARIABLE INPUT 130 Total, Average, and Marginal Physical Products 130 Marginal Physical Product and the “Law” of Diminishing Marginal Returns 131 The Optimal Quantity of an Input and Diminishing Returns 132

MULTIPLE INPUT DECISIONS: THE CHOICE OF OPTIMAL INPUT COMBINATIONS 133 Substitutability: The Choice of Input Proportions 134 The Marginal Rule for Optimal Input Proportions 135 Changes in Input Prices and Optimal Input Proportions 136

COST AND ITS DEPENDENCE ON OUTPUT 137 Input Quantities and Total, Average, and Marginal Cost Curves 137 The Law of Diminishing Marginal Productivity and the U-Shaped Average Cost Curve 140 The Average Cost Curve in the Short and Long Run 141

ECONOMIES OF SCALE 142 The “Law” of Diminishing Returns and Returns to Scale 143 Historical Costs versus Analytical Cost Curves 144

PUZZLE: RESOLVING THE ECONOMIES OF SCALE PUZZLE 145 Cost Minimization in Theory and Practice 146 Summary 147 Key Terms 148 Test Yourself 148 Discussion Questions 149

| APPENDIX | Production Indifference Curves 149 CHARACTERISTICS OF THE PRODUCTION INDIFFERENCE CURVES, OR ISOQUANTS 149 THE CHOICE OF INPUT COMBINATIONS 150 COST MINIMIZATION, EXPANSION PATH, AND COST CURVES 151 Summary 152 Key Terms 153 Test Yourself 153

Chapter 8

Output, Price, and Profit: The Importance of Marginal Analysis 155

PUZZLE: CAN A COMPANY MAKE A PROFIT BY SELLING BELOW ITS COSTS? 157

PRICE AND QUANTITY: ONE DECISION, NOT TWO 157 TOTAL PROFIT: KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE GOAL 158 ECONOMIC PROFIT AND OPTIMAL DECISION MAKING 158 Total, Average, and Marginal Revenue 159 Total, Average, and Marginal Cost 161 Maximization of Total Profit 161 Profit Maximization: A Graphical Interpretation 162 Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

Contents

MARGINAL ANALYSIS AND MAXIMIZATION OF TOTAL PROFIT 163 Marginal Revenue and Marginal Cost: Guides to Optimization 165 Finding the Optimal Price from Optimal Output 167

GENERALIZATION: THE LOGIC OF MARGINAL ANALYSIS AND MAXIMIZATION 168 Application: Fixed Cost and the Profit-Maximizing Price 168

PUZZLE RESOLVED: USING MARGINAL ANALYSIS TO UNRAVEL THE CASE OF THE “UNPROFITABLE” CALCULATOR 169

CONCLUSION: THE FUNDAMENTAL ROLE OF MARGINAL ANALYSIS 170 THE THEORY AND REALITY: A WORD OF CAUTION 171 Summary 171 Key Terms 172 Test Yourself 172 Discussion Question 172

| APPENDIX | The Relationships Among Total, Average, and Marginal Data 173 GRAPHICAL REPRESENTATION OF MARGINAL AND AVERAGE CURVES 174 Test Yourself 175

Chapter 9

Investing in Business: Stocks and Bonds

177

PUZZLE 1: WHAT IN THE WORLD HAPPENED TO THE STOCK MARKET? 178 PUZZLE 2: THE STOCK MARKET’S UNPREDICTABILITY 178

CORPORATIONS AND THEIR UNIQUE CHARACTERISTICS 179 Financing Corporate Activity: Stocks and Bonds 180 Plowback, or Retained Earnings 182 What Determines Stock Prices? The Role of Expected Company Earnings 183

BUYING STOCKS AND BONDS 183 Selecting a Portfolio: Diversification 184

STOCK EXCHANGES AND THEIR FUNCTIONS 185 Regulation of the Stock Market 186 Stock Exchanges and Corporate Capital Needs 187

SPECULATION 189 PUZZLE 2 RESOLVED: UNPREDICTABLE STOCK PRICES AS “RANDOM WALKS” 190 PUZZLE 1 REDUX: THE BOOM AND BUST OF THE U.S. STOCK MARKET 192 Summary 193 Key Terms 193 Test Yourself 193 Discussion Questions 194

PART 3

MARKETS AND THE PRICE SYSTEM 195

Chapter 10 The Firm and the Industry under Perfect Competition

197

PUZZLE: POLLUTION REDUCTION INCENTIVES THAT ACTUALLY INCREASE POLLUTION 198

PERFECT COMPETITION DEFINED 198 THE PERFECTLY COMPETITIVE FIRM 199 The Firm’s Demand Curve under Perfect Competition 199 Short-Run Equilibrium for the Perfectly Competitive Firm 200 Short-Run Profit: Graphic Representation 201 The Case of Short-Term Losses 202 Shutdown and Break-Even Analysis 202 The Perfectly Competitive Firm’s Short-Run Supply Curve 204

THE PERFECTLY COMPETITIVE INDUSTRY 205 The Perfectly Competitive Industry’s Short-Run Supply Curve 205 Industry Equilibrium in the Short Run 205 Industry and Firm Equilibrium in the Long Run 206 Zero Economic Profit: The Opportunity Cost of Capital 209 The Long-Run Industry Supply Curve 210 Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

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PERFECT COMPETITION AND ECONOMIC EFFICIENCY 211 PUZZLE RESOLVED: WHICH MORE EFFECTIVELY CUTS POLLUTION—THE CARROT OR THE STICK? 212 Summary 214 Key Terms 214 Test Yourself 214 Discussion Questions 215

Chapter 11 Monopoly 217 PUZZLE: WHAT HAPPENED TO AT&T’S “NATURAL MONOPOLY” IN TELEPHONE SERVICE? 218

MONOPOLY DEFINED 218 Sources of Monopoly: Barriers to Entry and Cost Advantages 219 Natural Monopoly 220

THE MONOPOLIST’S SUPPLY DECISION 221 Determining the Profit-Maximizing Output 223 Comparing Monopoly and Perfect Competition 224 Monopoly Is Likely to Shift Demand 225 Monopoly Is Likely to Shift Cost Curves 226

CAN ANYTHING GOOD BE SAID ABOUT MONOPOLY? 226 Monopoly May Aid Innovation 227 Natural Monopoly: Where Single-firm Production Is Cheapest 227

PRICE DISCRIMINATION UNDER MONOPOLY 227 Is Price Discrimination Always Undesirable? 230

PUZZLE RESOLVED: COMPETITION IN TELEPHONE SERVICE 230 Summary 231 Key Terms 232 Test Yourself 232 Discussion Questions 232

Chapter 12 Between Competition and Monopoly 235 PUZZLE: THREE PUZZLING OBSERVATIONS 236 PUZZLE 1: WHY ARE THERE SO MANY RETAILERS? 236 PUZZLE 2: WHY DO OLIGOPOLISTS ADVERTISE MORE THAN “MORE COMPETITIVE” FIRMS? 236 PUZZLE 3: WHY DO OLIGOPOLISTS SEEM TO CHANGE THEIR PRICES SO INFREQUENTLY? 236

MONOPOLISTIC COMPETITION 236 Characteristics of Monopolistic Competition 237 Price and Output Determination under Monopolistic Competition 238 The Excess Capacity Theorem and Resource Allocation 239

1ST PUZZLE RESOLVED: EXPLAINING THE ABUNDANCE OF RETAILERS 240

OLIGOPOLY 241 2ND PUZZLE RESOLVED: WHY OLIGOPOLISTS ADVERTISE BUT PERFECTLY COMPETITIVE FIRMS GENERALLY DO NOT 241 Why Oligopolistic Behavior Is So Difficult to Analyze 242 A Shopping List 242 Sales Maximization: An Oligopoly Model with Interdependence Ignored 246

3RD PUZZLE RESOLVED: THE KINKED DEMAND CURVE MODEL 247 The Game Theory Approach 250 Games with Dominant Strategies 250 Games without Dominant Strategies 252 Other Strategies: The Nash Equilibrium 253 Zero-Sum Games 253 Repeated Games 254

MONOPOLISTIC COMPETITION, OLIGOPOLY, AND PUBLIC WELFARE 257 A GLANCE BACKWARD: COMPARING THE FOUR MARKET FORMS 258 Summary 259 Key Terms 260 Test Yourself 260 Discussion Questions 260 Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

Contents

Chapter 13 Limiting Market Power: Regulation and Antitrust 263 THE PUBLIC INTEREST ISSUE: MONOPOLY POWER VERSUS MERE SIZE 264 PART 1: ANTITRUST LAWS AND POLICIES 265 MEASURING MARKET POWER: CONCENTRATION 267 Concentration: Definition and Measurement—The Herfindahl-Hirschman Index 267 The Evidence of Concentration in Reality 269

A CRUCIAL PROBLEM FOR ANTITRUST: THE RESEMBLANCE OF MONOPOLIZATION AND VIGOROUS COMPETITION 269 ANTICOMPETITIVE PRACTICES AND ANTITRUST 270 Predatory Pricing 270 The Microsoft Case: Bottlenecks, Bundling, and Network Externalities 270

USE OF ANTITRUST LAWS TO PREVENT COMPETITION 271 PART 2: REGULATION 273 WHAT IS REGULATION? 273 PUZZLE: WHY DO REGULATORS OFTEN RAISE PRICES? 273

SOME OBJECTIVES OF REGULATION 274 Control of Market Power Resulting from Economics of Scale and Scope 274 Universal Service and Rate Averaging 275

TWO KEY ISSUES THAT FACE REGULATORS 275 Setting Prices to Protect Consumers’ Interests and Allow Regulated Firms to Cover Their Cost 275 Marginal versus Average Cost Pricing 276 Preventing Monopoly Profit but Keeping Incentives for Efficiency and Innovation 277

THE PROS AND CONS OF “BIGNESS” 278 Economies of Large Size 278 Required Scale for Innovation 279

DEREGULATION 279 The Effects of Deregulation 279

PUZZLE REVISITED: WHY REGULATORS OFTEN PUSH PRICES UPWARD 282

CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS 282 Summary 283 Key Terms 283 Discussion Questions 283

PART 4

THE VIRTUES AND LIMITATIONS OF MARKETS 285

Chapter 14 The Case for Free Markets I: The Price System 287 PUZZLE: CROSSING THE SAN FRANCISCO–OAKLAND BAY BRIDGE: IS THE PRICE RIGHT? 288

EFFICIENT RESOURCE ALLOCATION AND PRICING 288 Pricing to Promote Efficiency: An Example 289 Can Price Increases Ever Serve the Public Interest? 290

SCARCITY AND THE NEED TO COORDINATE ECONOMIC DECISIONS 292 Three Coordination Tasks in the Economy 292 Input-Output Analysis: The Near Impossibility of Perfect Central Planning 295 Which Buyers and Which Sellers Get Priority? 297

HOW PERFECT COMPETITION ACHIEVES EFFICIENCY: A GRAPHIC ANALYSIS 299 HOW PERFECT COMPETITION ACHIEVES OPTIMAL OUTPUT: MARGINAL ANALYSIS 301 The Invisible Hand at Work 303 Other Roles of Prices: Income Distribution and Fairness 304 Yet Another Free-Market Achievement: Growth versus Efficiency 305

PUZZLE RESOLVED: SAN FRANCISCO BRIDGE PRICING REVISITED 306

TOWARD ASSESSMENT OF THE PRICE MECHANISM 306 Summary 307 Key Terms 307 Test Yourself 307 Discussion Questions 307 Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

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Chapter 15 The Shortcomings of Free Markets 309 PUZZLE: WHY ARE HEALTH-CARE COSTS IN CANADA RISING? 310

WHAT DOES THE MARKET DO POORLY? 310 EFFICIENT RESOURCE ALLOCATION: A REVIEW 311 EXTERNALITIES: GETTING THE PRICES WRONG 312 Externalities and Inefficiency 312 Externalities Are Everywhere 314 Government Policy and Externalities 315

PROVISION OF PUBLIC GOODS 316 ALLOCATION OF RESOURCES BETWEEN PRESENT AND FUTURE 318 The Role of the Interest Rate 318 How Does It Work in Practice? 319

SOME OTHER SOURCES OF MARKET FAILURE 320 Imperfect Information: “Caveat Emptor” 320 Rent Seeking 320 Moral Hazard 320 Principals, Agents, and Recent Stock Option Scandals 321

MARKET FAILURE AND GOVERNMENT FAILURE 323 THE COST DISEASE OF SOME VITAL SERVICES: INVITATION TO GOVERNMENT FAILURE 324 Deteriorating Personal Services 325 Personal Services Are Getting More Expensive 325 Why Are These “In-Person” Services Costing So Much More? 326 Uneven Labor Productivity Growth in the Economy 327 A Future of More Goods but Fewer Services: Is It Inevitable? 327 Government May Make the Problem Worse 329

PUZZLE RESOLVED: EXPLAINING THE RISING COSTS OF CANADIAN HEALTH CARE 329

THE MARKET SYSTEM ON BALANCE 330 EPILOGUE: THE UNFORGIVING MARKET, ITS GIFT OF ABUNDANCE, AND ITS DANGEROUS FRIENDS 330 Summary 331 Key Terms 332 Test Yourself 332 Discussion Questions 332

Chapter 16 The Market’s Prime Achievement: Innovation and Growth

333

PUZZLE: HOW DID THE MARKET ACHIEVE ITS UNPRECEDENTED GROWTH? 334

THE MARKET ECONOMY’S INCREDIBLE GROWTH RECORD 334 INNOVATION, NOT INVENTION, IS THE UNIQUE FREE-MARKET ACCOMPLISHMENT 338 SOURCES OF FREE-MARKET INNOVATION: THE ROLE OF THE ENTREPRENEUR 339 Breakthrough Invention and the Entrepreneurial Firm 340

MICROECONOMIC ANALYSIS OF THE INNOVATIVE OLIGOPOLY FIRM 340 The Large Enterprises and Their Innovation “Assembly Lines” 340 The Profits of Innovation: Schumpeter’s Model 343 Financing the Innovation “Arms Race”: High R&D Costs and “Monopoly Profits” 345 How Much Will a Profit-Maximizing Firm Spend on Innovation? 346 A Kinked Revenue Curve Model of Spending on Innovation 346 Innovation as a Public Good 348 Effects of Process Research on Outputs and Prices 348

DO FREE MARKETS SPEND ENOUGH ON R&D ACTIVITIES? 349 Innovation as a Beneficial Externality 350 Why the Shortfall in Innovation Spending May Not Be So Big After All 351

THE MARKET ECONOMY AND THE SPEEDY DISSEMINATION OF NEW TECHNOLOGY 351 CONCLUSION: THE MARKET ECONOMY AND ITS INNOVATION ASSEMBLY LINE 353 Summary 353 Key Terms 354 Discussion Questions 354

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Contents

Chapter 17 Externalities, the Environment, and Natural Resources 355 PUZZLE: THOSE RESILIENT NATURAL RESOURCE SUPPLIES 356

PART 1: THE ECONOMICS OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION 356 REVIEW—EXTERNALITIES: A CRITICAL SHORTCOMING OF THE MARKET MECHANISM 356 The Facts: Is the World Really Getting Steadily More Polluted? 357 The Role of Individuals and Governments in Environmental Damage 360 Pollution and the Law of Conservation of Matter and Energy 361

BASIC APPROACHES TO ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY 363 Emissions Taxes versus Direct Controls 364 Another Financial Device to Protect the Environment: Emissions Permits 366

TWO CHEERS FOR THE MARKET 367 PART 2: THE ECONOMICS OF NATURAL RESOURCES 368 ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: THE FREE MARKET AND PRICING OF DEPLETABLE RESOURCES 369 Scarcity and Rising Prices 369 Supply-Demand Analysis and Consumption 369

ACTUAL RESOURCE PRICES IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY 371 Interferences with Price Patterns 372 Is Price Interference Justified? 374 On the Virtues of Rising Prices 374

PUZZLE REVISITED: GROWING RESERVES OF EXHAUSTIBLE NATURAL RESOURCES 375 Summary 375 Key Terms 375 Test Yourself 376 Discussion Questions 376

Chapter 18 Taxation and Resource Allocation 377 ISSUE: SHOULD THE BUSH TAX CUTS BE (PARTLY) REPEALED? 378

THE LEVEL AND TYPES OF TAXATION 378 Progressive, Proportional, and Regressive Taxes 379 Direct versus Indirect Taxes 379

THE FEDERAL TAX SYSTEM 379 The Federal Personal Income Tax 380 The Payroll Tax 381 The Corporate Income Tax 381 Excise Taxes 381 The Payroll Tax and the Social Security System 381

THE STATE AND LOCAL TAX SYSTEM 383 Sales and Excise Taxes 383 Property Taxes 383 Fiscal Federalism 384

THE CONCEPT OF EQUITY IN TAXATION 384 Horizontal Equity 384 Vertical Equity 384 The Benefits Principle 385

THE CONCEPT OF EFFICIENCY IN TAXATION 385 Tax Loopholes and Excess Burden 387

SHIFTING THE TAX BURDEN: TAX INCIDENCE 387 The Incidence of Excise Taxes 389 The Incidence of the Payroll Tax 390

WHEN TAXATION CAN IMPROVE EFFICIENCY 391 EQUITY, EFFICIENCY, AND THE OPTIMAL TAX 391 ISSUE REVISITED: THE PROS AND CONS OF REPEALING THE BUSH TAX CUTS 392 Summary 393 Key Terms 393 Test Yourself 394 Discussion Questions 394

Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

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PART 5

THE DISTRIBUTION OF INCOME 395

Chapter 19 Pricing the Factors of Production 397 PUZZLE: WHY DOES A HIGHER RETURN TO SAVINGS REDUCE THE AMOUNT SOME PEOPLE SAVE? 398

THE PRINCIPLE OF MARGINAL PRODUCTIVITY 398 INPUTS AND THEIR DERIVED DEMAND CURVES 399 INVESTMENT, CAPITAL, AND INTEREST 401 The Demand for Funds 402 The Downward-Sloping Demand Curve for Funds 403

PUZZLE RESOLVED: THE SUPPLY OF FUNDS

404

The Issue of Usury Laws: Are Interest Rates Too High? 404

THE DETERMINATION OF RENT 405 Land Rents: Further Analysis 406 Generalization: Economic Rent Seeking 408 Rent as a Component of an Input’s Compensation 409 An Application of Rent Theory: Salaries of Professional Athletes 410 Rent Controls: The Misplaced Analogy 410

PAYMENTS TO BUSINESS OWNERS: ARE PROFITS TOO HIGH OR TOO LOW? 411 What Accounts for Profits? 412 Taxing Profits 414

CRITICISMS OF MARGINAL PRODUCTIVITY THEORY 414 Summary 415 Key Terms 416 Test Yourself 416 Discussion Questions 416

| APPENDIX | Discounting and Present Value 417 Summary 418 Key Term 418 Test Yourself 418

Chapter 20 Labor and Entrepreneurship: The Human Inputs 419 PART 1: THE MARKETS FOR LABOR 420 PUZZLE: ENTREPRENEURS EARN LESS THAN MOST PEOPLE THINK—WHY SO LITTLE? 420

WAGE DETERMINATION IN COMPETITIVE MARKETS 421 The Demand for Labor and the Determination of Wages 422 Influences on MRPL: Shifts in the Demand for Labor 422 Technical Change, Productivity Growth, and the Demand for Labor 423 The Service Economy and the Demand for Labor 423

THE SUPPLY OF LABOR 424 Rising Labor-Force Participation 425 An Important Labor Supply Conundrum 425 The Labor Supply Conundrum Resolved 427

WHY DO WAGES DIFFER? 428 Labor Demand in General 428 Labor Supply in General 429 Investment in Human Capital 429 Teenagers: a Disadvantaged Group in the labor Market

429

UNIONS AND COLLECTIVE BARGAINING 430 Unions as Labor Monopolies 431 Monopsony and Bilateral Monopoly 433 Collective Bargaining and Strikes 433

PART 2: THE ENTREPRENEUR: THE OTHER HUMAN INPUT 435 ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND GROWTH 435 The Entrepreneur’s Prices and Profits 436 Fixed Costs and Public Good Attributes in Invention and Entrepreneurship

437

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Discriminatory Pricing of an Innovative Product over Its Life Cycle Negative Financial Rewards for Entrepreneurial Activity 439

PUZZLE RESOLVED: WHY ARE ENTREPRENEURIAL EARNINGS SURPRISINGLY LOW?

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439

INSTITUTIONS AND THE SUPPLY OF INNOVATIVE ENTREPRENEURSHIP

440

Summary 441 Key Terms 442 Test Yourself 442 Discussion Questions 443

Chapter 21 Poverty, Inequality, and Discrimination 445 ISSUE: WERE THE BUSH TAX CUTS UNFAIR? 446

THE FACTS: POVERTY 446 Counting the Poor: The Poverty Line 447 Absolute versus Relative Poverty 448

THE FACTS: INEQUALITY 449 SOME REASONS FOR UNEQUAL INCOMES 450 THE FACTS: DISCRIMINATION 452 THE TRADE-OFF BETWEEN EQUALITY AND EFFICIENCY 453 POLICIES TO COMBAT POVERTY 454 Education as a Way Out 455 The Welfare Debate and the Trade-Off 455 The Negative Income Tax 456

OTHER POLICIES TO COMBAT INEQUALITY 457 The Personal Income Tax 457 Death Duties and Other Taxes 457

POLICIES TO COMBAT DISCRIMINATION 458 A LOOK BACK 459 Summary 460 Key Terms 460 Test Yourself 460 Discussion Questions 461

| APPENDIX | The Economic Theory of Discrimination 461 DISCRIMINATION BY EMPLOYERS 461 DISCRIMINATION BY FELLOW WORKERS 461 STATISTICAL DISCRIMINATION 462 THE ROLES OF THE MARKET AND THE GOVERNMENT 462 Summary 463 Key Term 463

PART 6

THE MACROECONOMY: AGGREGATE SUPPLY AND DEMAND 465

Chapter 22 An Introduction to Macroeconomics 467 ISSUE: HOW DID THE HOUSING BUST LEAD TO THE GREAT RECESSION? 468

DRAWING A LINE BETWEEN MACROECONOMICS AND MICROECONOMICS 468 Aggregation and Macroeconomics 468 The Foundations of Aggregation 469 The Line of Demarcation Revisited 469

SUPPLY AND DEMAND IN MACROECONOMICS 469 A Quick Review 470 Moving to Macroeconomic Aggregates 470 Inflation 471 Recession and Unemployment 471 Economic Growth 471 Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

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GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT 471 Money as the Measuring Rod: Real versus Nominal GDP 472 What Gets Counted in GDP? 472 Limitations of the GDP: What GDP Is Not 474

THE ECONOMY ON A ROLLER COASTER 475 Growth, but with Fluctuations 475 Inflation and Deflation 477 The Great Depression 478 From World War II to 1973 479 The Great Stagflation, 1973–1980 480 Reaganomics and Its Aftermath 481 Clintonomics: Deficit Reduction and the “New Economy” 481 Tax Cuts and the Bush Economy 482

ISSUE REVISITED: HOW DID THE HOUSING BUST LEAD TO THE GREAT RECESSION? 482

THE PROBLEM OF MACROECONOMIC STABILIZATION: A SNEAK PREVIEW 483 Combating Unemployment 483 Combating Inflation 484 Does It Really Work? 484 Summary 485 Key Terms 486 Test Yourself 486 Discussion Questions 487

Chapter 23 The Goals of Macroeconomic Policy 489 PART 1: THE GOAL OF ECONOMIC GROWTH 490 PRODUCTIVITY GROWTH: FROM LITTLE ACORNS . . . 490 ISSUE: IS FASTER GROWTH ALWAYS BETTER? 492

THE CAPACITY TO PRODUCE: POTENTIAL GDP AND THE PRODUCTION FUNCTION 492 THE GROWTH RATE OF POTENTIAL GDP 493 ISSUE REVISITED: IS FASTER GROWTH ALWAYS BETTER? 494

PART 2: THE GOAL OF LOW UNEMPLOYMENT 495 THE HUMAN COSTS OF HIGH UNEMPLOYMENT 496 COUNTING THE UNEMPLOYED: THE OFFICIAL STATISTICS 497 TYPES OF UNEMPLOYMENT 498 HOW MUCH EMPLOYMENT IS “FULL EMPLOYMENT”? 499 UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE: THE INVALUABLE CUSHION 499 PART 3: THE GOAL OF LOW INFLATION 500 INFLATION: THE MYTH AND THE REALITY 501 Inflation and Real Wages 501 The Importance of Relative Prices 503

INFLATION AS A REDISTRIBUTOR OF INCOME AND WEALTH 504 REAL VERSUS NOMINAL INTEREST RATES 504 INFLATION DISTORTS MEASUREMENTS 505 Confusing Real and Nominal Interest Rates 506 The Malfunctioning Tax System 506

OTHER COSTS OF INFLATION 506 THE COSTS OF LOW VERSUS HIGH INFLATION 507 LOW INFLATION DOES NOT NECESSARILY LEAD TO HIGH INFLATION 509 Summary 509 Key Terms 510 Test Yourself 510 Discussion Questions 511

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| APPENDIX | How Statisticians Measure Inflation 511 INDEX NUMBERS FOR INFLATION 511 THE CONSUMER PRICE INDEX 512 USING A PRICE INDEX TO “DEFLATE” MONETARY FIGURES 513 USING A PRICE INDEX TO MEASURE INFLATION 513 THE GDP DEFLATOR 513 Summary 514 Key Terms 514 Test Yourself 514

Chapter 24 Economic Growth: Theory and Policy 517 PUZZLE: WHY DOES COLLEGE EDUCATION KEEP GETTING MORE EXPENSIVE? 518

THE THREE PILLARS OF PRODUCTIVITY GROWTH 518 Capital 519 Technology 519 Labor Quality: Education and Training 520

LEVELS, GROWTH RATES, AND THE CONVERGENCE HYPOTHESIS 520 GROWTH POLICY: ENCOURAGING CAPITAL FORMATION 522 GROWTH POLICY: IMPROVING EDUCATION AND TRAINING 524 GROWTH POLICY: SPURRING TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE 526 THE PRODUCTIVITY SLOWDOWN AND SPEED-UP IN THE UNITED STATES 527 The Productivity Slowdown, 1973–1995 527 The Productivity Speed-up, 1995–? 528

PUZZLE RESOLVED: WHY THE RELATIVE PRICE OF COLLEGE TUITION KEEPS RISING 530

GROWTH IN THE DEVELOPING COUNTRIES 531 The Three Pillars Revisited 531 Some Special Problems of the Developing Countries 532

FROM THE LONG RUN TO THE SHORT RUN 533 Summary 533 Key Terms 534 Test Yourself 534 Discussion Questions 535

Chapter 25 Aggregate Demand and the Powerful Consumer 537 ISSUE: DEMAND MANAGEMENT AND THE ORNERY CONSUMER 538

AGGREGATE DEMAND, DOMESTIC PRODUCT, AND NATIONAL INCOME 538 THE CIRCULAR FLOW OF SPENDING, PRODUCTION, AND INCOME 539 CONSUMER SPENDING AND INCOME: THE IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIP 541 THE CONSUMPTION FUNCTION AND THE MARGINAL PROPENSITY TO CONSUME 544 FACTORS THAT SHIFT THE CONSUMPTION FUNCTION 545 ISSUE REVISITED: WHY THE TAX REBATES FAILED IN 1975 AND 2001 547

THE EXTREME VARIABILITY OF INVESTMENT 548 THE DETERMINANTS OF NET EXPORTS 549 National Incomes 549 Relative Prices and Exchange Rates 549

HOW PREDICTABLE IS AGGREGATE DEMAND? 550 Summary 550 Key Terms 551 Test Yourself 551 Discussion Questions 552

| APPENDIX | National Income Accounting 552 DEFINING GDP: EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULES 552 GDP AS THE SUM OF FINAL GOODS AND SERVICES 553 GDP AS THE SUM OF ALL FACTOR PAYMENTS 553

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GDP AS THE SUM OF VALUES ADDED 555 Summary 556 Key Terms 557 Test Yourself 557 Discussion Questions 558

Chapter 26 Demand-Side Equilibrium: Unemployment or Inflation? 559 ISSUE: WHY DOES THE MARKET PERMIT UNEMPLOYMENT? 560

THE MEANING OF EQUILIBRIUM GDP 560 THE MECHANICS OF INCOME DETERMINATION 562 THE AGGREGATE DEMAND CURVE 564 DEMAND-SIDE EQUILIBRIUM AND FULL EMPLOYMENT 566 THE COORDINATION OF SAVING AND INVESTMENT 567 CHANGES ON THE DEMAND SIDE: MULTIPLIER ANALYSIS 569 The Magic of the Multiplier 569 Demystifying the Multiplier: How It Works 570 Algebraic Statement of the Multiplier 571

THE MULTIPLIER IS A GENERAL CONCEPT 573 THE MULTIPLIER AND THE AGGREGATE DEMAND CURVE 574 Summary 575 Key Terms 576 Test Yourself 576 Discussion Questions 577

| APPENDIX A | The Simple Algebra of Income Determination and the Multiplier 577 Test Yourself 578 Discussion Questions 578

| APPENDIX B | The Multiplier with Variable Imports 578 Summary 581 Test Yourself 581 Discussion Question 581

Chapter 27 Bringing in the Supply Side: Unemployment and Inflation? 583 PUZZLE: WHAT CAUSES STAGFLATION? 584

THE AGGREGATE SUPPLY CURVE 584 Why the Aggregate Supply Curve Slopes Upward 584 Shifts of the Agregate Supply Curve 585

EQUILIBRIUM OF AGGREGATE DEMAND AND SUPPLY 587 INFLATION AND THE MULTIPLIER 588 RECESSIONARY AND INFLATIONARY GAPS REVISITED 589 ADJUSTING TO A RECESSIONARY GAP: DEFLATION OR UNEMPLOYMENT? 591 Why Nominal Wages and Prices Won’t Fall (Easily) 591 Does the Economy Have a Self-Correcting Mechanism? 592 An Example from Recent History: Deflation in Japan 593

ADJUSTING TO AN INFLATIONARY GAP: INFLATION 593 Demand Inflation and Stagflation 594 A U.S. Example 594

STAGFLATION FROM A SUPPLY SHOCK 595 APPLYING THE MODEL TO A GROWING ECONOMY 596 Demand-Side Fluctuations 597 Supply-Side Fluctuations 598

PUZZLE RESOLVED: EXPLAINING STAGFLATION 600

A ROLE FOR STABILIZATION POLICY 600 Summary 600 Key Terms 601 Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

Contents

Test Yourself 601 Discussion Questions 602

PART 7

FISCAL AND MONETARY POLICY 603

Chapter 28 Managing Aggregate Demand: Fiscal Policy 605 ISSUE: THE GREAT FISCAL STIMULUS DEBATE OF 2009–2010 606

INCOME TAXES AND THE CONSUMPTION SCHEDULE 606 THE MULTIPLIER REVISITED 607 The Tax Multiplier 607 Income Taxes and the Multiplier 608 Automatic Stabilizers 609 Government Transfer Payments 609

ISSUE REVISITED: THE 2009–2010 STIMULUS DEBATE 610

PLANNING EXPANSIONARY FISCAL POLICY 610 PLANNING CONTRACTIONARY FISCAL POLICY 611 THE CHOICE BETWEEN SPENDING POLICY AND TAX POLICY 611 ISSUE REDUX: DEMOCRATS VERSUS REPUBLICANS 612

SOME HARSH REALITIES 612 THE IDEA BEHIND SUPPLY-SIDE TAX CUTS 613 Some Flies in the Ointment 614

ISSUE: THE PARTISAN DEBATE ONCE MORE 615 Toward an Assessment of Supply-Side Economics 616 Summary 617 Key Terms 617 Test Yourself 617 Discussion Questions 618

| APPENDIX A | Graphical Treatment of Taxes Fiscal Policy 618 MULTIPLIERS FOR TAX POLICY 620 Summary 621 Key Terms 621 Test Yourself 621 Discussion Questions 621

| APPENDIX B | Algebraic Treatment of Taxes and Fiscal Policy 622 Test Yourself 623

Chapter 29 Money and the Banking System 625 ISSUE: WHY ARE BANKS SO HEAVILY REGULATED? 626

THE NATURE OF MONEY 626 Barter versus Monetary Exchange 627 The Conceptual Definition of Money 628 What Serves as Money? 628

HOW THE QUANTITY OF MONEY IS MEASURED 630 M1 630 M2 631 Other Definitions of the Money Supply 631

THE BANKING SYSTEM 632 How Banking Began 632 Principles of Bank Management: Profits versus Safety 634 Bank Regulation 634

THE ORIGINS OF THE MONEY SUPPLY 635 How Bankers Keep Books 635

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BANKS AND MONEY CREATION 636 The Limits to Money Creation by a Single Bank 636 Multiple Money Creation by a Series of Banks 638 The Process in Reverse: Multiple Contractions of the Money Supply 640

WHY THE MONEY-CREATION FORMULA IS OVERSIMPLIFIED 642 THE NEED FOR MONETARY POLICY 643 Summary 643 Key Terms 644 Test Yourself 644 Discussion Questions 644

Chapter 30 Managing Aggregate Demand: Monetary Policy 645 ISSUE: JUST WHY IS BEN BERNANKE SO IMPORTANT? 646

MONEY AND INCOME: THE IMPORTANT DIFFERENCE 646 AMERICA’S CENTRAL BANK: THE FEDERAL RESERVE SYSTEM 647 Origins and Structure 647 Central Bank Independence 648

IMPLEMENTING MONETARY POLICY: OPEN-MARKET OPERATIONS 649 The Market for Bank Reserves 649 The Mechanics of an Open-Market Operation 650 Open-Market Operations, Bond Prices, and Interest Rates 652

OTHER METHODS OF MONETARY CONTROL 652 Lending to Banks 653 Changing Reserve Requirements 654

HOW MONETARY POLICY WORKS 654 Investment and Interest Rates 655 Monetary Policy and Total Expenditure 655

MONEY AND THE PRICE LEVEL IN THE KEYNESIAN MODEL 656 Application: Why the Aggregate Demand Curve Slopes Downward 657

UNCONVENTIONAL MONETARY POLICY 658 FROM MODELS TO POLICY DEBATES 658 Summary 659 Key Terms 659 Test Yourself 659 Discussion Questions 660

Chapter 31 The Debate over Monetary and Fiscal Policy 661 ISSUE: SHOULD WE FORSAKE STABILIZATION POLICY? 662

VELOCITY AND THE QUANTITY THEORY OF MONEY 662 Some Determinants of Velocity 664 Monetarism: The Quantity Theory Modernized 665

FISCAL POLICY, INTEREST RATES, AND VELOCITY 665 Application: The Multiplier Formula Revisited 666 Application: The Government Budget and Investment 667

DEBATE: SHOULD WE RELY ON FISCAL OR MONETARY POLICY? 667 DEBATE: SHOULD THE FED CONTROL THE MONEY SUPPLY OR INTEREST RATES? 668 Two Imperfect Alternatives 670 What Has the Fed Actually Done? 670

DEBATE: THE SHAPE OF THE AGGREGATE SUPPLY CURVE 671 DEBATE: SHOULD THE GOVERNMENT INTERVENE? 673 Lags and the Rules-versus-Discretion Debate 675

DIMENSIONS OF THE RULES-VERSUS-DISCRETION DEBATE 675 How Fast Does the Economy’s Self-Correcting Mechanism Work? 675 How Long Are the Lags in Stabilization Policy? 676 How Accurate Are Economic Forcasts? 676 The Size of Government 676

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Contents

Uncertainties Caused by Government Policy 677 A Political Business Cycle? 677

ISSUE REVISITED: WHAT SHOULD BE DONE? 679 Summary 679 Key Terms 680 Test Yourself 680 Discussion Questions 681

Chapter 32 Budget Deficits in the Short and Long Run 683 ISSUE: IS THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT BUDGET DEFICIT TOO LARGE? 684

SHOULD THE BUDGET BE BALANCED? THE SHORT RUN 684 The Importance of the Policy Mix 685

SURPLUSES AND DEFICITS: THE LONG RUN 685 DEFICITS AND DEBT: TERMINOLOGY AND FACTS 687 Some Facts about the National Debt 687

INTERPRETING THE BUDGET DEFICIT OR SURPLUS 689 The Structural Deficit or Surplus 689 On-Budget versus Off-Budget Surpluses 691 Conclusion: What Happened after 1981— and after 2001? 691

WHY IS THE NATIONAL DEBT CONSIDERED A BURDEN? 691 BUDGET DEFICITS AND INFLATION 692 The Monetization Issue 693

DEBT, INTEREST RATES, AND CROWDING OUT 694 The Bottom Line 695

THE MAIN BURDEN OF THE NATIONAL DEBT: SLOWER GROWTH 695 ISSUE REVISITED: IS THE BUDGET DEFICIT TOO LARGE? 696

THE ECONOMICS AND POLITICS OF THE U.S. BUDGET DEFICIT 698 Summary 699 Key Terms 699 Test Yourself 699 Discussion Questions 700

Chapter 33 The Trade-Off between Inflation and Unemployment 701 ISSUE: IS THE TRADE-OFF BETWEEN INFLATION AND UNEMPLOYMENT A RELIC OF THE PAST? 702

DEMAND-SIDE INFLATION VERSUS SUPPLY-SIDE INFLATION: A REVIEW 702 ORIGINS OF THE PHILLIPS CURVE 703 SUPPLY-SIDE INFLATION AND THE COLLAPSE OF THE PHILLIPS CURVE 705 Explaining the Fabulous 1990s 705

ISSUE RESOLVED: WHY INFLATION AND UNEMPLOYMENT BOTH DECLINED 706

WHAT THE PHILLIPS CURVE IS NOT 706 FIGHTING UNEMPLOYMENT WITH FISCAL AND MONETARY POLICY 708 WHAT SHOULD BE DONE? 709 The Costs of Inflation and Unemployment 709 The Slope of the Short-Run Phillips Curve 709 The Efficiency of the Economy’s Self-Correcting Mechanism 709

INFLATIONARY EXPECTATIONS AND THE PHILLIPS CURVE 710 THE THEORY OF RATIONAL EXPECTATIONS 712 What Are Rational Expectations? 712 Rational Expectations and the Trade-Off 713 An Evaluation 713

WHY ECONOMISTS (AND POLITICIANS) DISAGREE 714 THE DILEMMA OF DEMAND MANAGEMENT 715 ATTEMPTS TO REDUCE THE NATURAL RATE OF UNEMPLOYMENT 715 INDEXING 716 Summary 717

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Key Terms 718 Test Yourself 718 Discussion Questions 718

PART 8

THE UNITED STATES IN THE WORLD ECONOMY 721

Chapter 34 International Trade and Comparative Advantage 723 ISSUE: HOW CAN AMERICANS COMPETE WITH “CHEAP FOREIGN LABOR”? 724

WHY TRADE? 725 Mutual Gains from Trade 725

INTERNATIONAL VERSUS INTRANATIONAL TRADE 726 Political Factors in International Trade 726 The Many Currencies Involved in International Trade 726 Impediments to Mobility of Labor and Capital 726

THE LAW OF COMPARATIVE ADVANTAGE 727 The Arithmetic of Comparative Advantage 727 The Graphics of Comparative Advantage 728 Must Specialization Be Complete? 731

ISSUE RESOLVED: COMPARATIVE ADVANTAGE EXPOSES THE “CHEAP FOREIGN LABOR” FALLACY 731

TARIFFS, QUOTAS, AND OTHER INTERFERENCES WITH TRADE 732 Tariffs versus Quotas 733

WHY INHIBIT TRADE? 734 Gaining a Price Advantage for Domestic Firms 734 Protecting Particular Industries 734 National Defense and Other Noneconomic Considerations 735 The Infant-Industry Argument 736 Strategic Trade Policy 737

CAN CHEAP IMPORTS HURT A COUNTRY? 737 ISSUE: LAST LOOK AT THE “CHEAP FOREIGN LABOR” ARGUMENT 738 Summary 740 Key Terms 740 Test Yourself 741 Discussion Questions 741

| APPENDIX | Supply, Demand, and Pricing in World Trade 742 HOW TARIFFS AND QUOTAS WORK 743 Summary 744 Test Yourself 744

Chapter 35 The International Monetary System: Order or Disorder? 745 PUZZLE: WHY HAS THE DOLLAR SAGGED? 746

WHAT ARE EXCHANGE RATES? 746 EXCHANGE RATE DETERMINATION IN A FREE MARKET 747 Interest Rates and Exchange Rates: The Short Run 749 Economic Activity and Exchange Rates: The Medium Run 750 The Purchasing-Power Parity Theory: The Long Run 750 Market Determination of Exchange Rates: Summary 752

WHEN GOVERNMENTS FIX EXCHANGE RATES: THE BALANCE OF PAYMENTS 753 A BIT OF HISTORY: THE GOLD STANDARD AND THE BRETTON WOODS SYSTEM 754 The Classical Gold Standard 755 The Bretton Woods System 755

ADJUSTMENT MECHANISMS UNDER FIXED EXCHANGE RATES 756 WHY TRY TO FIX EXCHANGE RATES? 756 THE CURRENT “NONSYSTEM” 757

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Contents

The Role of the IMF 758 The Volatile Dollar 758 The Birth and Adolescence of the Euro 759

PUZZLE RESOLVED: WHY THE DOLLAR ROSE, THEN FELL, THEN ROSE 760 Summary 761 Key Terms 761 Test Yourself 762 Discussion Questions 762

Chapter 36 Exchange Rates and the Macroeconomy 763 ISSUE: SHOULD THE U.S. GOVERNMENT TRY TO STOP THE DOLLAR FROM FALLING? 764

INTERNATIONAL TRADE, EXCHANGE RATES, AND AGGREGATE DEMAND 764 Relative Prices, Exports, and Imports 765 The Effects of Changes in Exchange Rates 765

AGGREGATE SUPPLY IN AN OPEN ECONOMY 766 THE MACROECONOMIC EFFECTS OF EXCHANGE RATES 767 Interest Rates and International Capital Flows 768

FISCAL AND MONETARY POLICIES IN AN OPEN ECONOMY 768 Fiscal Policy Revisited 768 Monetary Policy Revisited 770

INTERNATIONAL ASPECTS OF DEFICIT REDUCTION 770 The Loose Link between the Budget Deficit and the Trade Deficit 771

SHOULD WE WORRY ABOUT THE TRADE DEFICIT? 772 ON CURING THE TRADE DEFICIT 772 Change the Mix of Fiscal and Monetary Policy 772 More Rapid Economic Growth Abroad 773 Raise Domestic Saving or Reduce Domestic Investment 773 Protectionism 773

CONCLUSION: NO NATION IS AN ISLAND 774 ISSUE REVISITED: SHOULD THE UNITED STATES LET THE DOLLAR FALL? 775 Summary 775 Key Terms 776 Test Yourself 776 Discussion Questions 776

PART 9

POSTSCRIPT: THE FINANCIAL CRISIS OF 2007–2009 777

Chapter 37 The Financial Crisis and the Great Recession 779 ISSUE: DID THE FISCAL STIMULUS WORK? 780

ROOTS OF THE CRISIS 780 LEVERAGE, PROFITS, AND RISK 782 THE HOUSING PRICE BUBBLE AND THE SUBPRIME MORTGAGE CRISIS 784 FROM THE HOUSING BUBBLE TO THE FINANCIAL CRISIS 786 FROM THE FINANCIAL CRISIS TO THE GREAT RECESSION 788 HITTING BOTTOM AND RECOVERING 791 ISSUE: DID THE FISCAL STIMULUS WORK? 792

LESSONS FROM THE FINANCIAL CRISIS 792 Summary 793 Key Terms 793 Test Yourself 794 Discussion Questions 794

| APPENDIX | Answers to Odd-Numbered Test Yourself Questions 795

Glossary 813 Index 825 Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

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A

s usual, when updating an edition, we have made many small changes to improve clarity of exposition and to update the text both for recent economics events—the global downturn—and for relevant advances in the literature. But this time we have focused on two particular additions. One is a host of changes pertaining to the stunning economic events of 2007–2009. These appear scattered all over the macroeconomic chapters, but especially in the all-new Chapter 37 on the financial crisis and the Great Recession. The second, introduced in the eleventh edition, is a substantial discussion of the role of the entrepreneurs and of the microtheory of their activities, their pricing and their earnings, and the implications for economic growth. Several studies of the place of the entrepreneur in economics textbooks (including earlier editions of this one) have all reached the same conclusion: that entrepreneurs are either completely invisible or are virtually so. Indeed, in a substantial set of the textbooks the word entrepreneur does not even appear in the index. Now, this omission should appear strange because entrepreneurs are often classified as one of the four factors of production—but the only one to which no chapter is devoted. More than that, it seems universally recognized by economists that economic growth is the prime contributor to the general welfare and that more than 80 percent of the current income of the average American was contributed by growth in the past century alone. Moreover, it is clear that, even though entrepreneurs did not produce this growth by themselves, much, if not most, of this historically unprecedented achievement would not have occurred without them. Yet, in the textbooks, they have been the invisible men and women. More than that, the description and analysis of the activities of entrepreneurs is evidently a topic in microeconomics: the incentives and the responses of the individual actors in the economy. This means that analysis of economic growth and policies for its stimulation need to be examined from two sides: the macroeconomic, where issues such as the requisite savings and investment are studied, and the microeconomic, where the twin activities of invention and entrepreneurship are analyzed. Yet the discussion of growth in most textbooks is entirely confined to the macro sections of the volume, with the subject completely absent from the micro analysis. In our new edition, as the reader will see, this is no longer so. In addition to the usual discussion of growth in the macro portion of the book, there is a complete chapter on the microeconomics of growth and half a chapter on the entrepreneur as one of the two human factors of production. This eleventh edition is the product of nearly 30 years of the existence and modification of this book. In the responses to a survey of faculty users, it became clear that a number of chapters were generally not covered by instructors for lack of time, although the material is of considerable interest to students and is not—or need not be—technically demanding. So we simplified several such chapters further—notably Chapter 9 on the stock and bond markets, Chapter 13 on regulation and antitrust, Chapter 17 on environmental economics, and Chapter 21 on poverty and inequality—to make it practical for an instructor to assign any or all of them to the students for reading entirely by themselves. In the micro sections of the book, we have added a number of new materials in response to requests by correspondents. For example, in the material on the staticoptimality properties of perfect competition, we added a discussion of the Coase theorem and more on behavioral economics. But as already indicated, the primary change was in the new material on the microeconomics of growth and entrepreneurship. In the macroeconomic portions of the book, we try to make the links between the short run and the long run clearer and more explicit with each passing edition. For the updated eleventh edition, we have also added much new material on the problems in the subprime mortgage markets, the ensuing financial crisis and possible recession, and several economic issues in the 2008 presidential campaign. As is our practice, these new materials are scattered over many chapters of the text, so as to locate the discussions of current events xxvii

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and policy close to the places where the relevant principles are taught. This edition also adds a bit more material on China; sadly, the experience in Zimbabwe has provided a contemporary example of hyperinflation. We ended this section of the preface to the tenth edition by singling out the critical contributions of one colleague and friend of amazingly long duration. We now repeat some of our words about the late Sue Anne Batey Blackman, who worked closely with us through 10 editions of this book; for all practical purposes, she had become a co-author. Indeed, the chapter on environmental matters is now largely her product. Her creative mind guided our efforts; her eagle eyes caught our errors; and her stimulating and pleasant company kept us going. Perhaps most important, we loved and valued her most profoundly. Unfortunately, she has been taken from us much too young. Our children and grandchildren will understand and surely support our decision not to dedicate this edition of the book to them, but rather to our precious lost friend, Sue Anne.

NOTE TO THE STUDENT May we offer a suggestion for success in your economics course? Unlike some of the other subjects you may be studying, economics is cumulative: Each week’s lesson builds on what you have learned before. You will save yourself a lot of frustration—and a lot of work—by keeping up on a week-to-week basis. To assist you in doing so, we provide a chapter summary, a list of important terms and concepts, a selection of questions to help you review the contents of each chapter, as well as the answers to odd-numbered Test Yourself questions. Making use of these learning aids will help you to master the material in your economics course. For additional assistance, we have prepared student supplements to help in the reinforcement of the concepts in this book and provide opportunities for practice and feedback. The following list indicates the ancillary materials and learning tools that have been designed specifically to be helpful to you. If you believe any of these resources could benefit you in your course of study, you may want to discuss them with your instructor. Further information on these resources is available at http://academic.cengage.com/economics/ baumol. We hope our book is helpful to you in your study of economics and welcome your comments or suggestions for improving student experience with economics. Please write to us in care of Baumol and Blinder, Editor for Economics, South-Western/Cengage Learning 5191 Natorp Boulevard, Mason, Ohio, 45040, or through the book’s web site at http://academic.cengage.com/economics/baumol.

CourseMate Multiple resources for learning and reinforcing principles concepts are now available in one place! CourseMate is your one-stop shop for the learning tools and activities to help you succeed. Access online resources like ABC News Videos, Ask the Instructor Videos, Flash Cards, Interactive Quizzing, the Graphing Workshop, News Articles, Economic debates, Links to Economic Data, and more. Visit www.cengagebrain.com to see the study options available with this text.

Study Guide The study guide assists you in understanding the text’s main concepts. It includes learning objectives, lists of important concepts and terms for each chapter, quizzes, multiplechoice tests, lists of supplementary readings, and study questions for each chapter—all of which help you test your understanding and comprehension of the key concepts.

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Preface

IN GRATITUDE Finally, we are pleased to acknowledge our mounting indebtedness to the many who have generously helped us in our efforts through the nearly 30-year history of this book. We often have needed help in dealing with some of the many subjects that an introductory textbook must cover. Our friends and colleagues Charles Berry, Princeton University; Rebecca Blank, University of Michigan; William Branson, Princeton University; Gregory Chow, Princeton University; Avinash Dixit, Princeton University; Susan Feiner, University of Southern Maine; Claudia Goldin, Harvard University; Ronald Grieson, University of California, Santa Cruz; Daniel Hamermesh, University of Texas; Yuzo Honda, Osaka University; Peter Kenen, Princeton University; Melvin Krauss, Stanford University; Herbert Levine, University of Pennsylvania; Burton Malkiel, Princeton University; Edwin Mills, Northwestern University; Janusz Ordover, New York University; David H. Reiley Jr., University of Arizona; Uwe Reinhardt, Princeton University; Harvey Rosen, Princeton University; Laura Tyson, University of California, Berkeley; and Martin Weitzman, Harvard University have all given generously of their knowledge in particular areas over the course of 10 editions. We have learned much from them and have shamelessly relied on their help. Economists and students at colleges and universities other than ours offered numerous useful suggestions for improvements, many of which we have incorporated into this eleventh edition. We wish to thank Larry Allen, Lamar University; Nestor M. Arguea, University of West Florida; Gerald Bialka, University of North Florida; Kyongwook Choi, Ohio University; Basil G. Coley, North Carolina A &T State University; Carol A. Conrad, Cerro Coso Community College; Brendan Cushing-Daniels, Gettysburg College; Edward J. Deak, Fairfield University; Kruti Dholakia, The University of Texas at Dallas; Aimee Dimmerman, George Washington University; Mark Gius, Quinnipiac University; Ahmed Ispahani, University of La Verne; Jin Kim, Georgetown University; Christine B. Lloyd, Western Illinois University; Laura Maghoney, Solano Community College; Kosmas Marinakis, North Carolina State University; Carl B. Montano, Lamar University; Steve Pecsok, Middlebury College; J. M. Pogodzinski, San Jose State University; Adina Schwartz, Lakeland College; David Tufte, Southern Utah University; and Thierry Warin, Middlebury College for their insightful reviews. Obviously, the book you hold in your hands was not produced by us alone. An essential role was played by Susan Walsh, who stepped into the space vacated by Sue Anne and handled the tasks superbly, with insight and reliability, and did so in a most pleasant manner. In updating the eleventh edition, Anne Noyes Saini helped to refresh data and information throughout the book, and our colleague William Silber, New York University, generously helped us draft new content on derivatives and securitization—we thank both for their contributions. We also appreciate the contribution of the staff at SouthWestern Cengage Learning, including Joe Sabatino, Editor-in-Chief; Michael Worls, Executive Editor; John Carey, Senior Marketing Manager; Katie Yanos, Supervising Developmental Editor; Emily Nesheim, Content Project Manager; Deepak Kumar, Media Editor; Michelle Kunkler, Senior Art Director; Deanna Ettinger, Photo Manager; and Sandee Milewski, Senior Manufacturing Coordinator. It was a pleasure to deal with them, and we appreciate their understanding of our approaches, our goals, and our idiosyncrasies. We also thank our intelligent and delightful assistants at Princeton University and New York University, Kathleen Hurley and Janeece Roderick Lewis, who struggled successfully with the myriad tasks involved in completing the manuscript. And, finally, we must not omit our continuing debt to our wives, Hilda Baumol and Madeline Blinder. They have now suffered through 11 editions and the inescapable neglect and distraction the preparation of each new edition imposes. Their tolerance and understanding has been no minor contribution to the project. William J. Baumol Alan S. Blinder

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xxix

About the Authors WILLIAM J. BAUMOL William J. Baumol was born in New York City and received his BSS at the College of the City of New York and his Ph.D. at the University of London. He is the Harold Price Professor of Entrepreneurship and Academic Director of the Berkley Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at New York University, where he teaches a course in introductory microeconomics, and the Joseph Douglas Green, 1895, Professor of Economics Emeritus and Senior Economist at Princeton University. He is a frequent consultant to the management of major firms in a wide variety of industries in the United States and other countries as well as to a number of governmental agencies. In several fields, including the telecommunications and electric utility industries, current regulatory policy is based on his explicit recommendations. Among his many contributions to economics are research on the theory of the firm, the contestability of markets, the economics of the arts and other services—the “cost disease of the services” is often referred to as “Baumol’s disease“—and economic growth, entrepreneurship, and innovation. In addition to economics, he taught a course in wood sculpture at Princeton for about 20 years and is an accomplished painter (you Alan Blinder and Will Baumol may view some of his paintings at http://pages.stern.nyu.edu/~wbaumol/). Professor Baumol has been president of the American Economic Association and three other professional societies. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, created by the U.S. Congress, and of the American Philosophical Society, founded by Benjamin Franklin. He is also on the board of trustees of the National Council on Economic Education and of the Theater Development Fund. He is the recipient of 11 honorary degrees. Baumol is the author of hundreds of journal and newspaper articles and more than 35 books, including Global Trade and Conflicting National Interests (2000); The Free-Market Innovation Machine (2002); Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism (2007); and The Microtheory of Innovative Entrepreneurship (2010). His writings have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

ALAN S. BLINDER Alan S. Blinder was born in New York City and attended Princeton University, where one of his teachers was William Baumol. After earning a master’s degree at the London School of Economics and a Ph.D. at MIT, Blinder returned to Princeton, where he has taught since 1971, including teaching introductory macroeconomics since 1977. He is currently the Gordon S. Rentschler Memorial Professor of Economics and Public Affairs and co-director of Princeton’s Center for Economic Policy Studies, which he founded. In January 1993, Blinder went to Washington as part of President Clinton’s first Council of Economic Advisers. Then, from June 1994 through January 1996, he served as vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. He thus played a role in formulating both the fiscal and monetary policies of the 1990s, topics discussed extensively in this book. He has also advised several presidential campaigns. Blinder has consulted for a number of the world’s largest financial institutions, testified dozens of times before congressional committees, and been involved in several entrepreneurial start-ups. For many years, he has written newspaper and magazine articles on economic policy, and he currently has a regular column in the Wall Street Journal. In addition, Blinder’s op-ed pieces still appear periodically in other newspapers. He also appears frequently on PBS, CNN, CNBC, and Bloomberg TV. xxxi

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About the Authors

Blinder has served as president of the Eastern Economic Association and vice president of the American Economic Association and is a member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Council on Foreign Relations. He has two grown sons, two grandsons, and lives in Princeton with his wife, where he plays tennis as often as he can.

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Part

Getting Acquainted with Economics

W

elcome to economics! Some of your fellow students may have warned you that “econ is boring.” Don’t believe them—or at least, don’t believe them too much. It is true that studying economics is hardly pure fun. But a first course in economics can be an eye-opening experience. There is a vast and important world out there—the economic world—and this book is designed to help you understand it. Have you ever wondered whether jobs will be plentiful or scarce when you graduate, or why a college education becomes more and more expensive? Should the government be suspicious of big firms? Why can’t pollution be eliminated? How did the U.S. economy manage to grow so rapidly in the 1990s while Japan’s economy stagnated? If any of these questions have piqued your curiosity, read on. You may find economics is more interesting than you had thought! It is only in later chapters that we will begin to give you the tools you need to begin carrying out your own economic analyses. However, the four chapters of Part 1 that we list next will introduce you to both the subject matter of economics and some of the methods that economists use to study their subject.

C H A P T E R S 1 | What Is Economics? 2 | The Economy: Myth and Reality

3 | The Fundamental Economic

Problem: Scarcity and Choice

4 | Supply and Demand: An Initial Look

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What Is Economics? Why does public discussion of economic policy so often show the abysmal ignorance of the participants? Why do I so often want to cry at what public figures, the press, and television commentators say about economic affairs? ROBERT M . S OLOW, WI NNER OF THE 1987 NOBEL PRIZE IN ECONOMICS

E

conomics is a broad-ranging discipline, both in the questions it asks and the methods it uses to seek answers. Many of the world’s most pressing problems are economic in nature. The first part of this chapter is intended to give you some idea of the sorts of issues that economic analysis helps to clarify and the kinds of solutions that economic principles suggest. The second part briefly introduces the tools that economists use—tools you are likely to find useful in your career, personal life, and role as an informed citizen, long after this course is over.

C O N T E N T S IDEAS FOR BEYOND THE FINAL EXAM Idea 1: How Much Does It Really Cost? Idea 2: Attempts to Repeal the Laws of Supply and Demand—The Market Strikes Back Idea 3: The Surprising Principle of Comparative Advantage Idea 4: Trade Is a Win-Win Situation Idea 5: The Importance of Thinking at the Margin Idea 6: Externalities—A Shortcoming of the Market Cured by Market Methods Idea 7: The Trade-Off between Efficiency and Equality

Idea 8: Government Policies Can Limit Economic Fluctuations—But Don’t Always Succeed Idea 9: The Short-Run Trade-Off between Inflation and Unemployment Idea 10: Productivity Growth Is (Almost) Everything in the Long Run Epilogue

INSIDE THE ECONOMIST’S TOOL KIT Economics as a Discipline The Need for Abstraction The Role of Economic Theory What Is an Economic Model?

Reasons for Disagreements: Imperfect Information and Value Judgments

| APPENDIX | Using Graphs: A Review Graphs Used in Economic Analysis Two-Variable Diagrams The Definition and Measurement of Slope Rays through the Origin and 45° Lines Squeezing Three Dimensions into Two: Contour Maps

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Getting Acquainted with Economics

IDEAS FOR BEYOND THE FINAL EXAM

IDEAS FOR BEYOND THE FINAL EXAM

Elephants may never forget, but people do. We realize that most students inevitably forget much of what they learn in a course—perhaps with a sense of relief—soon after the final exam. Nevertheless, we hope that you will remember some of the most significant economic ideas and, even more important, the ways of thinking about economic issues that will help you evaluate the economic issues that arise in our economy. To help you identify some of the most crucial concepts, we have selected 10 from the many in this book. Some offer key insights into the workings of the economy, and several bear on important policy issues that appear in newspapers; others point out common misunderstandings that occur among even the most thoughtful lay observers. Most of them indicate that it takes more than just good common sense to analyze economic issues effectively. As the opening quote of this chapter suggests, many learned judges, politicians, and university administrators who failed to understand basic economic principles could have made wiser decisions. Try this one on for size. Imagine you own a widget manufacturing company that rents a warehouse. Your landlord raises your rent by $10,000 per year. Should you raise the price of your widgets to try to recoup some of your higher costs or should you do the opposite— lower your price to try to sell more and spread the so-called overhead costs over more products? In fact, as we shall see in Chapter 8, both answers are probably wrong! Each of the 10 Ideas for Beyond the Final Exam, many of which are counterintuitive, will be sketched briefly here. More important, each will be discussed in depth when it occurs in the course of the book, where it will be called to your attention by a special icon in the margin. Don’t expect to master these ideas fully now, but do notice how some of the ideas arise again and again as we deal with different topics. By the end of the course you will have a better grasp of when common sense works and when it fails, and you will be able to recognize common fallacies that are all too often offered by public figures, the press, and television commentators.

Idea 1: How Much Does It Really Cost?

The opportunity cost of a decision is the value of the next best alternative that must be given up because of that decision (for example, working instead of going to school).

Because no one has infinite riches, people are constantly forced to make choices. If you purchase a new computer, you may have to give up that trip you had planned. If a business decides to retool its factories, it may have to postpone its plans for new executive offices. If a government expands its defense program, it may be forced to reduce its outlays on school buildings. Economists say that the true costs of such decisions are not the number of dollars spent on the computer, the new equipment, or the military, but rather the value of what must be given up in order to acquire the item—the vacation trip, the new executive offices, and the new schools. These are called opportunity costs because they represent the opportunities the individual, firm, or government must forgo to make the desired expenditure. Economists maintain that rational decision making must be based on opportunity costs, not just dollar costs (see Chapters 3, 8, 14, and 15). The cost of a college education provides a vivid example. How much do you think it costs to go to college? Most people are likely to answer by adding together their expenditures on tuition, room and board, books, and the like, and then deducting any scholarship funds they may receive. Suppose that amount comes to $15,000. Economists keep score differently. They first want to know how much you would be earning if you were not attending college. Suppose that salary is $20,000 per year. This may seem irrelevant, but because you give up these earnings by attending college, they must be added to your tuition bill. You have that much less income because of your education. On the other side of the ledger, economists would not count all of the university’s bill for room and board as part of the costs of your education. They would want to know how much more it costs you to live at school rather than at home. Economists would count only these extra costs as an educational expense because you would have incurred these

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Chapter 1

What Is Economics?

costs whether or not you attend college. On balance, college is probably costing you much more than you think. And, as we will see later, taking opportunity cost into account in any personal planning will help you to make more rational decisions.

Idea 2: Attempts to Repeal the Laws of Supply and Demand—The Market Strikes Back When a commodity is in short supply, its price naturally tends to rise. Sometimes disgruntled consumers badger politicians into “solving” this problem by making the high prices illegal—by imposing a ceiling on the price. Similarly, when supplies are plentiful—say, when fine weather produces extraordinarily abundant crops—prices tend to fall. Falling prices naturally dismay producers, who often succeed in getting legislators to impose price floors. Such attempts to repeal the laws of supply and demand usually backfire and sometimes produce results virtually the opposite of those intended. Where rent controls are adopted to protect tenants, housing grows scarce because the law makes it unprofitable to build and maintain apartments. When price floors are placed under agricultural products, surpluses pile up because people buy less. As we will see in Chapter 4 and elsewhere in this book, such consequences of interference with the price mechanism are not accidental. They follow inevitably from the way in which free markets work.

Idea 3: The Surprising Principle of Comparative Advantage China today produces many products that Americans buy in huge quantities, including toys, textiles, and electronic equipment. American manufacturers often complain about Chinese competition and demand protection from the flood of imports that, in their view, threatens American standards of living. Is this view justified? Economists think that it is often false. They maintain that both sides normally gain from international trade, but what if the Chinese were able to produce everything more cheaply than we can? Wouldn’t Americans be thrown out of work and our nation be impoverished? A remarkable result, called the law of comparative advantage, shows that, even in this extreme case, the two nations could still benefit by trading and that each could gain as a result! We will explain this principle first in Chapter 3 and then more fully in Chapter 34. For now, a simple parable will make the reason clear. Suppose Sally grows up on a farm and is a whiz at plowing, but she is also a successful country singer who earns $4,000 per performance. Should Sally turn down singing engagements to leave time to work the fields? Of course not. Instead, she should hire Alfie, a much less efficient farmer, to do the plowing for her. Sally may be better at plowing, but she earns so much more by singing that it makes sense for her to specialize in that and leave the farming to Alfie. Although Alfie is a less skilled farmer than Sally, he is an even worse singer. So Alfie earns his living in the job at which he at least has a comparative advantage (his farming is not as inferior as his singing), and both Alfie and Sally gain. The same is true of two countries. Even if one of them is more efficient at everything, both countries can gain by producing the things they do best comparatively.

Idea 4: Trade Is a Win-Win Situation One of the most fundamental ideas of economics is that both parties must expect to gain something in a voluntary exchange. Otherwise, why would they both agree to trade? This principle seems self-evident, yet it is amazing how often it is ignored in practice. For example, it was widely believed for centuries that in international trade one country’s gain from an exchange must be the other country’s loss (Chapter 34). Analogously, some people feel instinctively that if Ms. A profits handsomely from a deal with Mr. B,

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Part 1

Getting Acquainted with Economics

then Mr. B must have been exploited. Laws sometimes prohibit mutually beneficial exchanges between buyers and sellers—as when a loan transaction is banned because the interest rate is “too high” (Chapter 19), or when a willing worker is condemned to remain unemployed because the wage she is offered is “too low” (Chapter 20), or when the resale of tickets to sporting events (“ticket scalping”) is outlawed even though the buyer is happy to get the ticket that he could not obtain at a lower price (Chapter 4). In every one of these cases, well-intentioned but misguided reasoning blocks the possible mutual gains that arise from voluntary exchange and thereby interferes with one of the most basic functions of an economic system (see Chapter 3).

Idea 5: The Importance of Thinking at the Margin We will devote many pages of this book to explaining and extolling a type of decisionmaking process called marginal analysis (see especially Chapters 5, 7, 8, and 14), which we can best illustrate through an example. Suppose an airline is told by its accountants that the full average cost of transporting one passenger from Los Angeles to New York is $300. Can the airline profit by offering a reduced fare of $200 to students who fly on a standby basis? The surprising answer is probably yes. The reason is that most of the costs of the flight must be paid whether the plane carries 20 passengers or 120 passengers. Costs such as maintenance, landing rights, and ground crews are irrelevant to the decision of whether to carry additional standby passengers at reduced rates. The only costs that are relevant are the extra costs of writing and processing additional tickets, the food and beverages consumed by these passengers, the additional fuel required, and so on. These so-called marginal costs are probably quite small in this example. A passenger who pays the airline any amount more than it costs the airline to give her a seat that would otherwise be unused (its marginal cost of flying her) adds something to the company’s profit. So it probably is more profitable to let students ride at low fares than to leave the seats empty. In many real cases, a failure to understand marginal analysis leads decision makers to reject advantageous possibilities, like the reduced fare in our example. These people are misled by using average rather than marginal cost figures in their calculations—an error that can be very costly.

Idea 6: Externalities—A Shortcoming of the Market Cured by Market Methods Markets are adept at producing the goods that consumers want and in just the quantities they desire. They do so by rewarding those who respond to what consumers want and who produce these commodities economically. This all works out well as long as each exchange involves only the buyer and the seller—and no one else. However, some transactions affect third parties who were not involved in the decision. Examples abound: Electric utilities that generate power for midwestern states also produce pollution that kills freshwater fish in upstate New York. A farmer sprays crops with toxic pesticides, but the poison seeps into the groundwater and affects the health of neighboring communities. Such social costs are called externalities because they affect parties external to the economic transactions that cause them. Externalities escape the control of the market mechanism because no financial incentive motivates polluters to minimize the damage they do—as we will learn in Chapters 15 and 17. So business firms make their products as cheaply as possible, disregarding any environmental harm they may cause. Yet Chapters 15 and 17 will point out a way for the government to use the market mechanism to control undesirable externalities. If the electric utility and the farmer are charged for the clean air and water they use, just as they are charged for any coal and fertilizer they consume, then they will have a financial incentive to reduce the amount of pollution they generate. Thus, in this case, economists believe that market methods are often the best way to cure one of the market’s most important shortcomings.

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Chapter 1

What Is Economics?

Idea 7: The Trade-Off between Efficiency and Equality Wages and income have grown more unequal in the United States since the late 1970s. Highly skilled workers have pulled away from low-skilled workers. The rich have grown richer while the poor have become (relatively) poorer, yet U.S. unemployment has been much lower than that in Europe for many years. In many European countries inequality has not grown more extreme. Many economists see these phenomena as two sides of the same coin. Europe and the United States have made different choices regarding how best to balance the conflicting claims of greater economic efficiency (more output and jobs) versus greater equality. Roughly speaking, the American solution is to let markets work to promote efficiency— something they are very good at doing—with only minimal government interferences to reduce economic inequalities. (Some of these interferences are studied in Chapter 21.) However, much of continental Europe takes a different view. They find it scandalous that many Americans work for less than $6 per hour, with virtually no fringe benefits and no job security. European laws mandate not only relatively high minimum wages but also substantial fringe benefits and employment protections; of course, European taxes must be much higher to pay for these programs. As economists see it, each system’s virtue is also its vice. There is an agonizing trade-off between the size of a nation’s output and the degree of equality with which that output is distributed. European-style policies designed to divide the proverbial economic pie more equally inadvertently can cause the size of the pie to shrink. American-style arrangements that promote maximal efficiency and output may permit or even breed huge inequalities and poverty. Which system is better? There is no clear answer, but we will examine the issue in detail in Chapter 21.

Idea 8: Government Policies Can Limit Economic Fluctuations—But Don’t Always Succeed One of the most persistent problems of market economies has been their tendency to go through cycles of boom and bust. The booms, as we shall see, often bring inflation, and the busts always raise unemployment. Years ago, economists, businesspeople, and politicians viewed these fluctuations as inevitable: there was nothing the government could or should do about them. That view is now considered obsolete. As we will learn in Part 6, and especially Part 7, modern governments have an arsenal of weapons that they can and do deploy to try to mitigate fluctuations in their national economies—to limit both inflation and unemployment. Some of these weapons constitute what is called fiscal policy: control over taxes and government spending. Others come from monetary policy: control over money and interest rates. Trying to tame the business cycle is not the same as succeeding. Economic fluctuations remain with us, and one reason is that the government’s fiscal and monetary policies sometimes fail—for both political and economic reasons. As we will see in Part 7, policy makers do not always make the right decisions. And even when they do, the economy does not always react as expected. Furthermore, for reasons we will explain later, the “right” decision is not always clear.

Idea 9: The Short-Run Trade-Off between Inflation and Unemployment The U.S. economy was lucky in the second half of the 1990s. A set of fortuitous events— falling energy prices, tumbling computer prices, a rising dollar, and so on—pushed inflation down even as unemployment fell to its lowest level in almost 30 years. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the United States was not so fortunate. Skyrocketing prices for food and energy sent both inflation and unemployment up to extraordinary heights. In both episodes, then, inflation and unemployment moved in the same direction.

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Part 1

Getting Acquainted with Economics

But economists maintain that neither of these two episodes was “normal.” When we are experiencing neither unusually good luck (as in the 1990s) nor exceptionally bad luck (as in the 1970s), there is a trade-off between inflation and unemployment—meaning that low unemployment normally makes inflation rise and high unemployment normally makes inflation fall. We will study the mechanisms underlying this trade-off in Parts 6 and 7, especially in Chapter 33. It poses one of the fundamental dilemmas of national economic policy.

Idea 10: Productivity Growth Is (Almost) Everything in the Long Run Today in Geneva, Switzerland, workers in a watch factory turn out more than 100 times as many mechanical watches per year as their ancestors did three centuries earlier. The productivity of labor (output per hour of work) in cotton production has probably gone up more than 1,000-fold in 200 years. It is estimated that rising labor productivity has increased the standard of living of a typical American worker approximately sevenfold in the past century (see Chapters 16 and 24). Other economic issues such as unemployment, monopoly, and inequality are important to us all and will receive much attention in this book, but in the long run, nothing has as great an effect on our material well-being and the amounts society can afford to spend on hospitals, schools, and social amenities as the rate of growth of productivity—the amount that an average worker can produce in an hour. Chapter 16 points out that what appears to be a small increase in productivity growth can have a huge effect on a country’s standard of living over a long period of time because productivity compounds like the interest on savings in a bank. Similarly, a slowdown in productivity growth that persists for a substantial number of years can have a devastating effect on living standards.

Epilogue These ideas are some of the more fundamental concepts you will find in this book—ideas that we hope you will retain beyond the final exam. There is no need to master them right now, for you will hear much more about each as you progress through the book. By the end of the course, you may be amazed to see how natural, or even obvious, they will seem.

INSIDE THE ECONOMIST’S TOOL KIT We turn now from the kinds of issues economists deal with to some of the tools they use to grapple with them.

Economics as a Discipline Although economics is clearly the most rigorous of the social sciences, it nevertheless looks decidedly more “social” than “scientific” when compared with, say, physics. An economist must be a jack of several trades, borrowing modes of analysis from numerous fields. Mathematical reasoning is often used in economics, but so is historical study. And neither looks quite the same as when practiced by a mathematician or a historian. Statistics play a major role in modern economic inquiry, although economists had to modify standard statistical procedures to fit their kinds of data.

The Need for Abstraction Some students find economics unduly abstract and “unrealistic.” The stylized world envisioned by economic theory seems only a distant cousin to the world they know. There is an old joke about three people—a chemist, a physicist, and an economist—stranded on an desert island with an ample supply of canned food but no tools to open the cans. The chemist thinks that lighting a fire under the cans would burst the cans. The physicist advocates building a catapult with which to smash the cans against some boulders. The economist’s suggestion? “Assume a can opener.” Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

Abstraction from unimportant details is necessary to understand the functioning of anything as complex as the economy.

SOURCE: From The Wall Street Journal. Permission, Cartoon Features Syndicate.

Economic theory does make some unrealistic assumptions— you will encounter some of them in this book—but some abstraction from reality is necessary because of the incredible complexity of the economic world, not because economists like to sound absurd. Compare the chemist’s simple task of explaining the interactions of compounds in a chemical reaction with the economist’s complex task of explaining the interactions of people in an economy. Are molecules motivated by greed or altruism, by envy or ambition? Do they ever imitate other molecules? Do forecasts about them influence their behavior? People, of course, do all these things and many, many more. It is therefore vastly more difficult to predict human behavior than to predict chemical reactions. If economists tried to keep track of every feature of human behavior, they would never get anywhere. Thus:

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What Is Economics?

Chapter 1

“Yes, John, we’d all like to make economics less dismal . . . “

NOTE: The nineteenth-century British writer Thomas Carlyle described An analogy will make it clear why economists abstract from economics as the “dismal science,” a label that stuck. details. Suppose you have just arrived for the first time in Los Angeles. You are now at the Los Angeles Civic Center—the point marked A in Maps 1 and Abstraction means 2, which are alternative maps of part of Los Angeles. You want to drive to the Los Angeles ignoring many details so as to focus on the most County Museum of Art, point B on each map. Which map would be more useful? Map 1 has complete details of the Los Angeles road system, but this makes it hard to important elements of a read and hard to use as a way to find the art museum. For this purpose, Map 1 is far too problem. detailed, although for other purposes (for example, locating a small street in Hollywood) it may be far better than Map 2. In contrast, Map 2 omits many minor roads—you might say they are assumed away—so that the freeways and major arteries stand out more clearly. As a result of this simplification, several routes from the Civic Center to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

MAP 1

SOURCE: Map © by Rand McNally, RL. 08-S-32. Reprinted by permission.

Detailed Road Map of Los Angeles

NOTE: Point A marks the Los Angeles Civic Center, and Point B marks the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

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Part 1

Getting Acquainted with Economics

M AP 2

SOURCE: Map © by Rand McNally, R.L.04-S-14. Reprinted by permission.

Major Los Angeles Arteries and Freeways

emerge. For example, we can take the Hollywood Freeway west to Alvarado Boulevard, go south to Wilshire Boulevard, and then head west again. Although we might find a shorter route by poring over the details in Map 1, most strangers to the city would be better off with Map 2. Similarly, economists try to abstract from a lot of confusing details while retaining the essentials. Map 3, however, illustrates that simplification can go too far. It shows little more than the major interstate routes that pass through the greater Los Angeles area and therefore

M AP 3

SOURCE: California Department of Transportation

Greater Los Angeles Freeways

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Chapter 1

11

What Is Economics?

will not help a visitor find the art museum. Of course, this map was never intended to be used as a detailed tourist guide, which brings us to an important point: There is no such thing as one “right” degree of abstraction and simplification for all analytic purposes. The proper degree of abstraction depends on the objective of the analysis. A model that is a gross oversimplification for one purpose may be needlessly complicated for another.

Economists are constantly seeking analogies to Map 2 rather than Map 3, walking the thin line between useful generalizations about complex issues and gross distortions of the pertinent facts. For example, suppose you want to learn why some people are fabulously rich whereas others are abjectly poor. People differ in many ways, too many to enumerate, much less to study. The economist must ignore most of these details to focus on the important ones. The color of a person’s hair or eyes is probably not important for the problem but, unfortunately, the color of his or her skin probably is because racial discrimination can depress a person’s income. Height and weight may not matter, but education probably does. Proceeding in this way, we can pare Map 1 down to the manageable dimensions of Map 2. But there is a danger of going too far, stripping away some of the crucial factors, so that we wind up with Map 3.

The Role of Economic Theory Some students find economics “too theoretical.” To see why we can’t avoid it, let’s consider what we mean by a theory. To an economist or natural scientist, the word theory means something different from what it means in common speech. In science, a theory is not an untested assertion of alleged fact. The statement that aspirin provides protection against heart attacks is not a theory; it is a hypothesis, that is, a reasoned guess, which will prove to be true or false once the right sorts of experiments have been completed. But a theory is different. It is a deliberate simplification (abstraction) of reality that attempts to explain how some relationships work. It is an explanation of the mechanism behind observed phenomena. Thus, gravity forms the basis of theories that describe and explain the paths of the planets. Similarly, Keynesian theory (discussed in Parts 6 and 7) seeks to describe and explain how government policies affect unemployment and prices in the national economy. People who have never studied economics often draw a false distinction between theory and practical policy. Politicians and businesspeople, in particular, often reject abstract economic theory as something that is best ignored by “practical” people. The irony of these statements is that

A theory is a deliberate simplification of relationships used to explain how those relationships work.

It is precisely the concern for policy that makes economic theory so necessary and important.

To analyze policy options, economists are forced to deal with possibilities that have not actually occurred. For example, to learn how to shorten periods of high unemployment, they must investigate whether a proposed new policy that has never been tried can help. Or to determine which environmental programs will be most effective, they must understand how and why a market economy produces pollution and what might happen if the government taxed industrial waste discharges and automobile emissions. Such questions require some theorizing, not just examination of the facts, because we need to consider possibilities that have never occurred. The facts, moreover, can sometimes be highly misleading. Data often indicate that two variables move up and down together. But this statistical correlation does not prove that either variable causes the other. For example, when it rains, people drive slower and there are also more traffic accidents, but no one thinks slower driving causes more accidents when it’s raining. Rather, we understand that both phenomena are caused by a common underlying factor—more rain. How do we know this? Not just by looking at the correlation between data on accidents and driving speeds. Data alone tell us little about cause and effect. We must use some simple theory as part of our analysis. In this case, the theory might explain that drivers are more apt to have accidents on wet roads.

Two variables are said to be correlated if they tend to go up or down together. Correlation need not imply causation.

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12

Part 1

Getting Acquainted with Economics

Similarly, we must use theoretical analysis, and not just data alone, to understand how, if at all, different government policies will lead to lower unemployment or how a tax on emissions will reduce pollution. Statistical correlation need not imply causation. Some theory is usually needed to interpret data.

What Is an Economic Model? An economic model is a representation of a theory or a part of a theory, often used to gain insight into cause and effect. The notion of a “model” is familiar enough to children; and economists—like other researchers—use the term the same way children do. A child’s model airplane looks and operates much like the real thing, but it is smaller and simpler, so it is easier to manipulate and understand. Engineers for Boeing also build models of planes. Although their models are far larger and much more elaborate than a child’s toy, they use them for the same purposes: to observe the workings of these aircraft “up close” and to experiment to see how the models behave under different circumstances. (“What happens if I do this?”) From these experiments, they make educated guesses as to how the real-life version will perform. Economists use models for similar purposes. The late A. W. Phillips, famous engineer-turned-economist who discovered the “Phillips curve” (discussed in Chapter 33), was talented enough to construct a working model of the determination of national income in a simple economy by using colored water flowing through pipes. For years this contraption has graced the basement of the London School of Economics. Although we will explain the models with words and diagrams, Phillips’s engineering background enabled him to depict the theory with tubes, valves, and pumps. Because many of the models used in this book are depicted in diagrams, for those of you who need review, we explain the construction and use of various types of graphs in the appendix to this chapter. Don’t be put off by seemingly abstract models. Think of them as useful road maps and remember how hard it would be to find your way around Los Angeles without one. SOURCE: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

An economic model is a simplified, small-scale version of an aspect of the economy. Economic models are often expressed in equations, by graphs, or in words.

Reasons for Disagreements: Imperfect Information and Value Judgments

“If all the earth’s economists were laid end to end, they could not reach an agreement,” the saying goes. Politicians and reporters are fond of pointing out that economists can be found on both sides of many public policy issues. If economics is a science, why do economists so often disagree? After all, astronomers do not debate whether the earth revolves around the sun or vice versa. This question reflects a misunderstanding of the nature of science. Disputes are normal at the frontier of any science. For example, astronomers once argued vociferously over whether the earth revolves around the sun. Nowadays, they argue about gamma-ray bursts, dark matter, and other esoterica. These arguments go mostly unnoticed by the public because few of us understand what they are talking about. But economics is a social science, so its disputes are aired in public and all sorts of people feel competent to join economic debates. Furthermore, economists actually agree on much more than is commonly supposed. Virtually all economists, regardless of their politics, agree that taxing polluters is one of the best ways to protect the environment (see Chapters 15 and 17), that rent controls can ruin a city (Chapter 4), and that free trade among nations is usually preferable to the erection of barriers through tariffs and quotas (see Chapter 34). The list could go on and on. It

A. W. Phillips built this model in the early 1950s to illustrate Keynesian theory.

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What Is Economics?

Chapter 1

13

is probably true that the issues about which economists agree far exceed the subjects on which they disagree. Finally, many disputes among economists are not scientific disputes at all. Sometimes the pertinent facts are simply unknown. For example, you will learn in Chapter 17 that the appropriate financial penalty to levy on a polluter depends on quantitative estimates of the harm done by the pollutant; however, good estimates of this damage may not be available. Similarly, although there is wide scientific agreement that the earth is slowly warming, there are disagreements over the costs of global warming. Such disputes make it difficult to agree on a concrete policy proposal. Another important source of disagreements is that economists, like other people, come in all political stripes: conservative, middle-of-the-road, liberal, radical. Each may have different values, and so each may hold a different view of the “right” solution to a public policy problem—even if they agree on the underlying analysis. Here are two examples: 1. We suggested early in this chapter that policies that lower inflation are likely to raise unemployment. Many economists believe they can measure the amount of unemployment that must be endured to reduce inflation by a given amount. However, they disagree about whether it is worth having, say, three million more people out of work for a year to cut the inflation rate by 1 percent. 2. In designing an income tax, society must decide how much of the burden to put on upper-income taxpayers. Some people believe the rich should pay a disproportionate share of the taxes. Others disagree, believing it is fairer to levy the same income tax rate on everyone. Economists cannot answer questions like these any more than nuclear physicists could have determined whether dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima was a good idea. The decisions rest on moral judgments that can be made only by the citizenry through its elected officials. Although economic science can contribute theoretical and factual knowledge on a particular issue, the final decision on policy questions often rests either on information that is not currently available or on social values and ethical opinions about which people differ, or on both.

| SUMMARY | 1. To help you get the most out of your first course in economics, we have devised a list of 10 important ideas that you will want to retain beyond the final exam. Briefly, they are the following: a. Opportunity cost is the correct measure of cost. b. Attempts to fight market forces often backfire. c. Nations can gain from trade by exploiting their comparative advantages. d. Both parties can gain in a voluntary exchange. e. Good decisions typically require marginal analysis, which weighs added costs against added benefits. f. Externalities may cause the market mechanism to malfunction, but this defect can often be repaired by market methods. g. Governments have tools that can mitigate cycles of boom and bust, but these tools are imperfect. h. There is a trade-off between efficiency and equality. Many policies that promote one damage the other.

j. In the long run, productivity is almost the only thing that matters for a society’s material well-being. 2. Common sense is not always a reliable guide in explaining economic issues or in making economic decisions. 3. Because of the great complexity of human behavior, economists are forced to abstract from many details, to make generalizations that they know are not quite true, and to organize what knowledge they have in terms of some theoretical structure called a “model.” 4. Correlation need not imply causation. 5. Economists use simplified models to understand the real world and predict its behavior, much as a child uses a model railroad to learn how trains work. 6. Although these models, if skillfully constructed, can illuminate important economic problems, they rarely can answer the questions that confront policy makers. Value judgments involving such matters as ethics are needed for this purpose, and the economist is no better equipped than anyone else to make them.

i. In the short run, policy makers face a trade-off between inflation and unemployment. Policies that reduce one normally increase the other. Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

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Part 1

Getting Acquainted with Economics

| KEY TERMS | abstraction

9

economic model

12

correlation

11

opportunity cost

4

theory

11

| DISCUSSION QUESTIONS | 1. Think about a way you would construct a model of how your college is governed. Which officers and administrators would you include and exclude from your model if the objective were one of the following: a. To explain how decisions on financial aid are made b. To explain the quality of the faculty

every word uttered by the lecturer? Why don’t you write down just the title of the lecture and stop there? How do you decide, roughly speaking, on the correct amount of detail? 3. Explain why a government policy maker cannot afford to ignore economic theory.

Relate this to the map example in the chapter. 2. Relate the process of abstraction to the way you take notes in a lecture. Why do you not try to transcribe

| APPENDIX | Using Graphs: A Review1 As noted in the chapter, economists often explain and analyze models with the help of graphs. Indeed, this book is full of them. But that is not the only reason for studying how graphs work. Most college students will deal with graphs in the future, perhaps frequently. You will see them in newspapers. If you become a doctor, you will use graphs to keep track of your patients’ progress. If you join a business firm, you will use them to check profit or performance at a glance. This appendix introduces some of the techniques of graphic analysis—tools you will use throughout the book and, more important, very likely throughout your working career.

GRAPHS USED IN ECONOMIC ANALYSIS Economic graphs are invaluable because they can display a large quantity of data quickly and because they facilitate data interpretation and analysis. They enable the eye to take in at a glance important statistical relationships that would be far less apparent from written descriptions or long lists of numbers.

TWO-VARIABLE DIAGRAMS Much of the economic analysis found in this and other books requires that we keep track of two variables simultaneously. A variable is something measured by a number; it is used to analyze what happens to other things when the size of that number changes (varies). Students who have some acquaintance with geometry and feel quite comfortable with graphs can safely skip this appendix.

1

For example, in studying how markets operate, we will want to keep one eye on the price of a commodity and the other on the quantity of that commodity that is bought and sold. For this reason, economists frequently find it useful to display real or imaginary figures in a two-variable diagram, which simultaneously represents the behavior of two economic variables. The numerical value of one variable is measured along the horizontal line at the bottom of the graph (called the horizontal axis), starting from the origin (the point labeled “0”), and the numerical value of the other variable is measured up the vertical line on the left side of the graph (called the vertical axis), also starting from the origin. The “0” point in the lower-left corner of a graph where the axes meet is called the origin. Both variables are equal to zero at the origin.

Figures 1(a) and 1(b) are typical graphs of economic analysis. They depict an imaginary demand curve, represented by the brick-colored dots in Figure 1(a) and the heavy brick-colored line in Figure 1(b). The graphs show the price of natural gas on their vertical axes and the quantity of gas people want to buy at each price on the horizontal axes. The dots in Figure 1(a) are connected by the continuous brick-colored curve labeled DD in Figure 1(b). Economic diagrams are generally read just as one would read latitudes and longitudes on a map. On the demand curve in Figure 1, the point marked a represents a hypothetical combination of price and quantity of natural gas demanded by customers in St. Louis. By drawing a horizontal line leftward from that point to the vertical axis, we learn that at this point the average price for gas in St. Louis is $3 per thousand cubic feet.

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15

What Is Economics?

Chapter 1

FI GURE 1 6

6

5

5

4 a

P

3

Price

Price

D

4 P

3

a b

b

2

A Hypothetical Demand Curve for Natural Gas in St. Louis

2

D

1

1 0

20

40

60

Q 80 100 120 140

0

Quantity (a)

20

40

60

Q 80 100 120 140

Quantity (b)

NOTE: Price is in dollars per thousand cubic feet; quantity is in billions of cubic feet per year.

TA BLE 1 Quantities of Natural Gas Demanded at Various Prices

Price (per thousand cubic feet) Quantity demanded (billions of cubic feet per year)

$2

$3

$4

$5

$6

120

80

56

38

20

By dropping a line straight down to the horizontal axis, we find that consumers want 80 billion cubic feet per year at this price, just as the statistics in Table 1 show. The other points on the graph give similar information. For example, point b indicates that if natural gas in St. Louis were to cost only $2 per thousand cubic feet, quantity demanded would be higher—it would reach 120 billion cubic feet per year. Notice that information about price and quantity is all we can learn from the diagram. The demand curve will not tell us what kinds of people live in St. Louis, the size of their homes, or the condition of their furnaces. It tells us about the quantity demanded at each possible price—no more, no less. A diagram abstracts from many details, some of which may be quite interesting, so as to focus on the two variables of primary interest—in this case, the price of natural gas and the amount of gas that is demanded at each price. All of the diagrams used in this book share this basic feature. They cannot tell the reader the “whole story,” any more than a map’s latitude and longitude figures for a particular city can make someone an authority on that city.

THE DEFINITION AND MEASUREMENT OF SLOPE One of the most important features of economic diagrams is the rate at which the line or curve being

sketched runs uphill or downhill as we move to the right. The demand curve in Figure 1 clearly slopes downhill (the price falls) as we follow it to the right (that is, as consumers demand more gas). In such instances, we say that the curve has a negative slope, or is negatively sloped, because one variable falls as the other one rises. The slope of a straight line is the ratio of the vertical change to the corresponding horizontal change as we move to the right along the line between two points on that line, or, as it is often said, the ratio of the “rise” over the “run.”

The four panels of Figure 2 show all possible types of slope for a straight-line relationship between two unnamed variables called Y (measured along the vertical axis) and X (measured along the horizontal axis). Figure 2(a) shows a negative slope, much like our demand curve in the previous graph. Figure 2(b) shows a positive slope, because variable Y rises (we go uphill) as variable X rises (as we move to the right). Figure 2(c) shows a zero slope, where the value of Y is the same irrespective of the value of X. Figure 2(d) shows an infinite slope, meaning that the value of X is the same irrespective of the value of Y. Slope is a numerical concept, not just a qualitative one. The two panels of Figure 3 show two positively sloped straight lines with different slopes. The line in Figure 3(b) is clearly steeper. But by how much? The labels should help you compute the answer. In Figure 3(a) a horizontal movement, AB, of 10 units (13 2 3) corresponds to a vertical movement, BC, of 1 unit (9 2 8). So the slope is BC/AB 5 1/10. In Figure 3(b), the same horizontal movement of 10 units corresponds to a vertical movement of 3 units (11 2 8). So the slope is 3/10, which is larger—the rise divided by the run is greater in Figure 3(b). By definition, the slope of any particular straight line remains the same, no matter where on that line we

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16

Getting Acquainted with Economics

Part 1

F I GURE 2 Different Types of Slope of a Straight-Line Graph

Y

Y

Y

Negative slope

Positive slope

X

0

Y

Zero slope

X

0

(a)

Infinite slope

X

0

(b)

X

0

(c)

(d)

FIGURE 3 How to Measure Slope Y

Y 3 Slope = — 10 C 11

9 8

0

C

1 Slope = — 10 B

A

3

13 (a)

choose to measure it. That is why we can pick any horizontal distance, AB, and the corresponding slope triangle, ABC, to measure slope. But this is not true for curved lines. Curved lines also have slopes, but the numerical value of the slope differs at every point along the curve as we move from left to right.

The four panels of Figure 4 provide some examples of slopes of curved lines. The curve in Figure 4(a) has a negative slope everywhere, and the curve in Figure 4(b) has a positive slope everywhere. But these are not the only possibilities. In Figure 4(c) we encounter a curve that has a positive slope at first but a negative slope later on. Figure 4(d) shows the opposite case: a negative slope followed by a positive slope. We can measure the slope of a smooth curved line numerically at any particular point by drawing a straight line that touches, but does not cut, the curve at

X

8

0

B

A

3

13

X

(b)

the point in question. Such a line is called a tangent to the curve. The slope of a curved line at a particular point is defined as the slope of the straight line that is tangent to the curve at that point.

Figure 5 shows tangents to the brick-colored curve at two points. Line tt is tangent at point T, and line rr is tangent at point R. We can measure the slope of the curve at these two points by applying the definition. The calculation for point T, then, is the following: Slope at point T 5 Slope of line tt 5

5

Distance BC Distance BA

11 2 52 24 5 5 22 13 2 12 2

A similar calculation yields the slope of the curve at point R, which, as we can see from Figure 5, must be

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17

What Is Economics?

Chapter 1

FIGU R E 4 Behavior of Slopes in Curved Graphs

Y

Y

Y

Y

Negative slope Negative slope

Positive slope

Positive slope

Negative slope

Positive slope X

0

X

0

(a)

(c)

How to Measure Slope at a Point on a Curved Graph

Y

6

D

5

The point at which a straight line cuts the vertical (Y) axis is called the Y-intercept.

R

t

F C

E

4

G

T

3

The Y-intercept of a line or a curve is the point at which it touches the vertical axis (the Y-axis). The X-intercept is defined similarly.

r

M

For example, the Y-intercept of the line in Figure 3(a) is a bit less than 8.

2 1 0

A t

B 1

2

3

(d)

RAYS THROUGH THE ORIGIN AND 45° LINES

r

7

X

0

like valleys, as in Figure 4(d), have a zero slope at their lowest point.

FIGU R E 5

8

X

0

(b)

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

X

smaller numerically. That is, the tangent line rr is less steep than line tt: Slope at point R 5 Slope of line rr

5

15 2 72 22 5 5 21 18 2 62 2

Exercise Show that the slope of the curve at point G is about 1. What would happen if we tried to apply this graphical technique to the high point in Figure 4(c) or to the low point in Figure 4(d)? Take a ruler and try it. The tangents that you construct should be horizontal, meaning that they should have a slope exactly equal to zero. It is always true that where the slope of a smooth curve changes from positive to negative, or vice versa, there will be at least one point whose slope is zero. Curves shaped like smooth hills, as in Figure 4(c), have a zero slope at their highest point. Curves shaped

Lines whose Y-intercept is zero have so many special uses in economics and other disciplines that they have been given a special name: a ray through the origin, or a ray.

Figure 6 shows three rays through the origin, and the slope of each is indicated in the diagram. The ray in the center (whose slope is 1) is particularly useful in many economic applications because it marks points where X and Y are equal (as long as X and Y are measured in the same units). For example, at point A we have X 5 3 and Y 5 3; at point B, X 5 4 and Y 5 4. A similar relation holds at any other point on that ray. How do we know that this is always true for a ray whose slope is 1? If we start from the origin (where both X and Y are zero) and the slope of the ray is 1, we know from the definition of slope that Slope 5

Vertical change 51 Horizontal change

This implies that the vertical change and the horizontal change are always equal, so the two variables must always remain equal. Any point along that ray (for example, point A) is exactly equal in distance

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18

Getting Acquainted with Economics

Part 1

If a point representing some data is above the 45° line, we know that the value of Y exceeds the value of X. Similarly, whenever we find a point below the 45° line, we know that X is larger than Y.

F I GURE 6 Rays through the Origin Y

Slope = + 1

4

3

SQUEEZING THREE DIMENSIONS INTO TWO: CONTOUR MAPS

Slope = + 2

5

B C A

2

1 Slope = + – 2

K

1

E

0

1

2

D 3

4

5

X

from the horizontal and vertical axes (length DA 5 length CA)—the number on the X-axis (the abscissa) will be the same as the number on the Y-axis (the ordinate). Rays through the origin with a slope of 1 are called 45° lines because they form an angle of 45° with the horizontal axis. A 45° line marks off points where the variables measured on each axis have equal values.2

F I GURE 7

SOURCE: Mount Everest. Alpenvereinskarte. Vienna: Kartographische Anstalt Freytag-Berndt und Artaria, 1957, 1988.

A Geographic Contour Map

Sometimes problems involve more than two variables, so two dimensions just are not enough to depict them on a graph. This is unfortunate, because the surface of a sheet of paper is only two-dimensional. When we study a business firm’s decision-making process, for example, we may want to keep track simultaneously of three variables: how much labor it employs, how much raw material it imports from foreign countries, and how much output it creates. Luckily, economists can use a well-known device for collapsing three dimensions into two—a contour map. Figure 7 is a contour map of the summit of the highest mountain in the world, Mt. Everest, on the border of Nepal and Tibet. On some of the irregularly shaped “rings” on this map, we find numbers (like 8500) indicating the height (in meters) above sea level at that particular spot on the mountain. Thus, unlike other maps, which give only latitudes and longitudes, this contour map (also called a topographical map) exhibits three pieces of information about each point: latitude, longitude, and altitude. Figure 8 looks more like the contour maps encountered in economics. It shows how a third variable, called Z (think of it as a firm’s output, for example), varies as we change either variable X (think of it as a firm’s employment of labor) or variable Y (think of it as the use of imported raw material). Just like the map of Mt. Everest, any point on the diagram conveys three pieces of data. At point A, we can read off the values of X and Y in the conventional way (X is 30 and Y is 40), and we can also note the value of Z by finding out on which contour line point A falls. (It is on the Z 5 20 contour.) So point A is able to tell us that 30 hours of labor and 40 yards of cloth produce 20 units of output per day. The contour line that

The definition assumes that both variables are measured in the same units. 2

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indicates 20 units of output shows the various combinations of labor and cloth a manufacturer can use to produce 20 units of output. Economists call such maps production indifference maps.

FIGU R E 8 An Economic Contour Map Y

A production indifference map is a graph whose axes show the quantities of two inputs that are used to produce some output. A curve in the graph corresponds to some given quantity of that output, and the different points on that curve show the different quantities of the two inputs that are just enough to produce the given output.

80 70 Yards of Cloth per Day

19

What Is Economics?

Chapter 1

60 50 A

40

Z = 40 B

30

Although most of the analyses presented in this book rely on the simpler two-variable diagrams, contour maps will find their applications, especially in the appendixes to Chapters 5 and 7.

Z = 30

20

Z = 20

10 Z = 10 0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

X

Labor Hours per Day

| SUMMARY | 1. Because graphs are used so often to portray economic models, it is important for students to acquire some understanding of their construction and use. Fortunately, the graphics used in economics are usually not very complex. 2. Most economic models are depicted in two-variable diagrams. We read data from these diagrams just as we read the latitude and longitude on a map: each point represents the values of two variables at the same time. 3. In some instances, three variables must be shown at once. In these cases, economists use contour maps, which, as the name suggests, show “latitude,” “longitude,” and “altitude” all at the same time.

4. Often, the most important property of a line or curve drawn on a diagram will be its slope, which is defined as the ratio of the “rise” over the “run,” or the vertical change divided by the horizontal change when one moves along the curve. Curves that go uphill as we move to the right have positive slopes; curves that go downhill have negative slopes. 5. By definition, a straight line has the same slope wherever we choose to measure it. The slope of a curved line changes, but the slope at any point on the curve can be calculated by measuring the slope of a straight line tangent to the curve at that point.

| KEY TERMS | 45° line

18

origin (of a graph)

ray through the origin, or ray 14

production indifference map

19

slope of a straight (or curved) line 15, 16

17

tangent to a curve variable

16

14

Y-intercept

17

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20

Part 1

Getting Acquainted with Economics

| TEST YOURSELF | 1. Portray the following hypothetical data on a two-variable diagram: Academic Year 2000–2001 2001–2002 2002–2003 2003–2004 2004–2005

Total Enrollment 3,000 3,100 3,200 3,300 3,400

Enrollment in Economics Courses 300 325 350 375 400

Measure the slope of the resulting line, and explain what this number means. 2. From Figure 5, calculate the slope of the curve at point M.

B+ or better. He concludes from observation that the following figures are typical: Number of grades of B+ or better Number of job offers

0 1

1 3

2 4

3 5

4 6

Put these numbers into a graph like Figure 1(a). Measure and interpret the slopes between adjacent dots. 4. In Figure 6, determine the values of X and Y at point K and at point E. What do you conclude about the slopes of the lines on which K and E are located? 5. In Figure 8, interpret the economic meaning of points A and B. What do the two points have in common? What is the difference in their economic interpretation?

3. Colin believes that the number of job offers he will get depends on the number of courses in which his grade is

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The Economy: Myth and Reality E pluribus unum (Out of many, one) MOTTO ON U .S. CU RRE N CY

T

his chapter introduces you to the U.S. economy and its role in the world. It may seem that no such introduction is necessary, for you have probably lived your entire life in the United States. Every time you work at a summer or part-time job, pay your college bills, or buy a slice of pizza, you not only participate in the American economy—you also observe something about it. But the casual impressions we acquire in our everyday lives, though sometimes correct, are often misleading. Experience shows that most Americans—not just students— either are unaware of or harbor grave misconceptions about some of the most basic economic facts. One popular myth holds that most of the goods that Americans buy are made in China. Another is that business profits account for a third of the price we pay for a typical good or service. Also, “everyone knows” that federal government jobs have grown rapidly over the past few decades. In fact, none of these things is remotely close to true. So, before we begin to develop theories of how the economy works, it is useful to get an accurate picture of what our economy is really like.

C O N T E N T S THE AMERICAN ECONOMY: A THUMBNAIL SKETCH

The American Workforce: What It Earns Capital and Its Earnings

A Private-Enterprise Economy A Relatively “Closed” Economy A Growing Economy . . . But with Bumps along the Growth Path

THE OUTPUTS: WHAT DOES AMERICA PRODUCE?

THE INPUTS: LABOR AND CAPITAL

WHAT’S MISSING FROM THE PICTURE? GOVERNMENT

The American Workforce: Who Is in It? The American Workforce: What Does It Do?

THE CENTRAL ROLE OF BUSINESS FIRMS

The Government as Business Regulator Government Expenditures Taxes in America The Government as Redistributor

CONCLUSION: IT’S A MIXED ECONOMY

The Government as Referee

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22

Part 1

Getting Acquainted with Economics

THE AMERICAN ECONOMY: A THUMBNAIL SKETCH

SOURCE: © The New Yorker Collection, 1992 Lee Lorenz from cartoonbank.com. All Rights Reserved.

The U.S. economy is the biggest national economy on earth, for two very different reasons. First, there are a lot of us. The population of the United States is just over 300 million—making it the third most populous nation on earth after China and India. That vast total includes children, retirees, full-time students, institutionalized people, and the unemployed, none of whom produce much output. But the working population of the United States numbers about 140 million. As long as they are reasonably productive, that many people are bound to produce vast amounts of goods and services. And they do. But population is not the main reason why the U.S. economy is by far the world’s biggest. After all, India has nearly four times the population of the United States, but its economy is smaller than that “And may we continue to be worthy of consuming a disproportionate of Texas. The second reason why the U.S. economy share of this planet’s resources.” is so large is that we are a very rich country. Because American workers are among the most productive in the world, our economy produces more than $47,000 worth of goods and services for Inputs or factors of every living American—nearly $100,000 for every working American. If each of the 50 states production are the labor, was a separate country, California would be the eighth-largest national economy on earth! machinery, buildings, and natural resources used to Why are some countries (like the United States) so rich and others (like India) so poor? make outputs. That is one of the central questions facing economists. It is useful to think of an economic system as a machine that takes inputs, such as labor and other things we call factors of Outputs are the goods and production, and transforms them into outputs, or the things people want to consume. The services that consumers American economic machine performs this task with extraordinary efficiency, whereas the and others want to acquire.

U.S. Share of World GDP—It’s Nice to Be Rich 2008 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per Capita in 7 Industrial Countries 50,000

47,500

45,000 39,200

40,000 GDP per Capita ($)

The approximately 6.8 billion people of the world produced approximately $70 trillion worth of goods and services in 2008. The United States, with only about 4.6 percent of that population, turned out approximately 21 percent of total output. As the accompanying graph shows, the United States is still the leader in goods and services, with over $47,000 worth of GDP produced per person (or per capita). Just seven major industrial economies (the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Canada— which account for just 11 percent of global population) generated 42 percent of world output. But their share has been falling as giant nations like China and India grow rapidly.

36,700

35,500

35,000

34,100

33,300

31,400

30,000 25,000 20,000 15,000 10,000 5,000

SOURCE: International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database, October 2009, http://www.imf.org, accessed December 2009; and Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, 2009. Note: Foreign GDPs are converted to U.S. dollars using exchange rates.

0 United States

Canada

United Germany Kingdom

Japan

France

Italy

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Chapter 2

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The Economy: Myth and Reality

Indian machine runs quite inefficiently (though it is improving rapidly). Learning why this is so is one of the chief reasons to study economics. Thus, what makes the American economy the center of world attention is our unique combination of prosperity and population. There are other rich countries in the world, like Switzerland, and there are other countries with huge populations, like India. But no nation combines a huge population with high per capita income the way the United States does. Japan, with an economy well under half the size of ours, is the only nation that comes close—although China, with its immense population, is moving up rapidly. Although the United States is a rich and populous country, the 50 states certainly were not created equal. Population density varies enormously—from a high of about 1,200 people per square mile in crowded New Jersey to a low of just one person per square mile in the wide-open spaces of Alaska. Income variations are much less pronounced, but still, the average income in West Virginia is only about half that in Connecticut.

A Private-Enterprise Economy Part of the secret of America’s economic success is that free markets and private enterprise have flourished here. These days, private enterprise and capitalism are the rule, not the exception, around the globe. But the United States has taken the idea of free markets— where individuals and businesses voluntarily buy and sell things—further than almost any other country. It remains the “land of opportunity.” Every country has a mixture of public and private ownership of property. Even in the darkest days of communism, Russians owned their own personal possessions. In our country, the post office and the electricity-producing Tennessee Valley Authority are enterprises of the federal government, and many cities and states own and operate mass transit facilities and sports stadiums. But the United States stands out among the world’s nations as one of the most “privatized.” Few industrial assets are publicly owned in the United States. Even many city bus companies and almost all utilities (such as electricity, gas, and telephones) are run as private companies in the United States. In Europe, they are often government enterprises, though there is substantial movement toward transfer of government firms to private ownership. The United States also has one of the most “marketized” economies on earth. The standard measure of the total output of an economy is called gross domestic product (GDP), a term that appears frequently in the news. The share of GDP that passes through markets in the United States is enormous. Although government purchases of goods and services amount to about 20 percent of GDP, much of that is purchased from private businesses. Direct government production of goods is extremely rare in our society.

A Relatively “Closed” Economy

Gross domestic product (GDP) is a measure of the size of the economy—the total amount it produces in a year. Real GDP adjusts this measure for changes in the purchasing power of money; that is, it corrects for inflation.

All nations trade with one another, and the United States is no exception. Our annual exports exceed $1.6 trillion and our annual imports exceed $2 trillion. That’s a lot of money, and so is the gap between them. But America’s international trade often gets more attention than it deserves. The fact is that we still produce most of what we consume and consume most of what we produce, although the shares of imports and exports have been growing, as Figure 1 shows. In 1959, the average of exports and imports was only about 4 percent of GDP, a tiny fraction of the total. It has since gone up to over 15 percent. Although this is no longer negligible, it still means that almost 85 percent of what Americans buy every year is made in the United States. Among the most severe misconceptions about the U.S. economy is the myth that this country no longer manufactures anything, but imports everything from, say, China. In fact, only about 18 percent of U.S. GDP is imported, with imports from China making up less than one-seventh of this—or a little over 2 percent of GDP. It may surprise you to learn that we actually import more merchandise from Canada than we do from China. Economists use the terms open and closed to indicate how important international trade is to a nation. A common measure of “openness” is the average of exports and imports, Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

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FIGURE 1 Share of U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Exported and Imported, 1959–2008

14 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 1959 1964 1969 1974 1979 1984 1989 1994 1999 2004 2009

An economy is called relatively open if its exports and imports constitute a large share of its GDP. An economy is considered relatively closed if they constitute a small share.

SOURCE: Economic Report of the President (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, various years).

Average of Exports and Imports, as a share of GDP (%)

16

expressed as a share of GDP. Thus, the Netherlands is considered an extremely open economy because it imports and exports about three-quarters of its GDP. (See Table 1.) By this criterion, the United States stands out as among the most closed economies among the advanced, industrial nations. We export and import a smaller share of GDP than all of the countries listed in the table.

A Growing Economy . . .

Openness

Netherlands Germany Canada United Kingdom Mexico Japan Russia China United States

75% 47 34 25 19 17 17 16 15

SOURCE: For United States, Bureau of Economic Analysis; for all other countries, Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/ library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.html accessed December 2009.

The next salient fact about the U.S. economy is its growth; it gets bigger almost every year (see Figure 2). Gross domestic product in 2008 was over $14 trillion; as noted earlier, that’s over $47,000 per American. Measured in dollars of constant purchasing power, 1 the U.S. GDP was almost five times as large in 2008 as it was in 1959. Of course, there were many more people in America in 2008 than there were 49 years earlier. But even correcting for population growth, America’s real GDP per capita was about 2.8 times higher in 2008 than in 1959. That’s still not a bad performance: Living standards nearly tripled in 49 years. Looking back further, the purchasing power of the average American increased nearly A recession is a period of 600 percent over the entire twentieth century! That’s a remarkable number. To get an idea time during which the total of what it means, just think how much poorer your family would become if it started out output of the economy with an average U.S. income and then, suddenly, six dollars out of seven were taken away. falls. Most Americans at the end of the nineteenth century could TABLE 1 not afford vacations, the men had one good suit of clothing Openness of Various National Economies, 2008 which they listed in their wills, and they wrote with ink that was kept in inkwells (and that froze every winter).

NOTE: Openness calculated as the average of imports and exports as a percentage of GDP.

1

But with Bumps along the Growth Path Although the cumulative growth performance depicted in Figure 2 is impressive, America’s economic growth has been quite irregular. We have experienced alternating periods of good and bad times, which are called economic fluctuations or sometimes just business cycles. In some years—five since 1959, to be exact—GDP actually declined. Such periods of declining economic activity are called recessions.

This concept is called real GDP.

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Chapter 2

The Economy: Myth and Reality

FIGURE 2 Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) since 1959

Billions of Dollars per Year

SOURCE: Economic Report of the President (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, various years).

14,000 12,000 10,000 8,000 6,000 4,000 2,000 0 1959 1964 1969 1974 1979 1984 1989 1994 1999 2004 2009 NOTE: Real (inflation-adjusted) GDP figures are in 2005 dollars.

The bumps along the American economy’s historic growth path are barely visible in Figure 2, but they stand out more clearly in Figure 3, which displays the same data in a different way. Here we plot not the level of real GDP each year but, rather, its growth rate— the percentage change from one year to the next. Now the booms and busts that delight and distress people—and swing elections—stand out clearly. From 1983 to 1984, for example, real GDP grew by over 7 percent, which helped ensure Ronald Reagan’s landslide reelection. But from 2008 to 2009, real GDP actually dropped sharply, causing all sorts of social distress. One important consequence of these ups and downs in economic growth is that unemployment varies considerably from one year to the next (see Figure 4). During the Great Depression of the 1930s, unemployment ran as high as 25 percent of the workforce, but it fell to barely over 1 percent during World War II. Just within the past few years, the national unemployment rate has been as high as 10.1 percent (in October 2009) and as low as 3.8 percent (in April 2000). In human terms, that 6.3 percentage point difference represents approximately 10 million jobless workers. Understanding why joblessness varies so dramatically, and what we can do about it, is another major reason for studying economics. FIGURE 3

8 7 6 Annual Change in Real GDP (%)

SOURCE: Economic Report of the President (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, various years)

The Growth Rate of Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the United States since 1959

1960s record expansion Boom of 1980s

5

Boom of 1990s

4 3 2 1

2001 recession

0 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 1973–74 –1 1990–91 recession recession 2008–09 –2 recession 1981–82 recession –3

NOTE: Growth rates are for 1959–1960, 1960–1961, and so on.

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FIGURE 4

30

Percentage of Civilian Workers Who Are Unemployed

Great Depression 25 20 1980–83 recessions

15

1973–75 recession

10 World War II

1980s boom

1960s boom

1990s boom

2008–09 recession

5 0 1929

1939

1949

1959

1969

1979

1989

1999

2009

SOURCE: Economic Report of the President (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, various years); and Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1975).

The Unemployment Rate in the United States since 1929

THE INPUTS: LABOR AND CAPITAL Let’s now return to the analogy of an economy as a machine turning inputs into outputs. The most important input is human labor: the men and women who run the machines, work behind the desks, and serve you in stores.

For roughly the first quarter-century after World War II, unemployment rates in the industrialized countries of Europe were significantly lower than those in the United States. Then, in the mid-1970s, rates of joblessness in Europe leaped, with double digits becoming common. And they have been higher than U.S. unemployment rates in almost every year since. Where employment is concerned, the U.S. economy has become the envy of Europe—with the exception of the United Kingdom. Put on a comparable basis by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment rates in the various countries in the fall of 2008 were:

U.S. Canada Australia Japan France Germany Italy Sweden United Kingdom

5.8% 5.3 4.2 4.0 7.5 7.5 6.8 6.2 5.7

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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SOURCE: © Joel Stettenheim/CORBIS

Unemployment Rates in Europe

The Economy: Myth and Reality

Chapter 2

The American Workforce: Who Is in It? We have already mentioned that about 140 million Americans hold jobs. Almost 53 percent of these workers are men; over 47 percent are women. This ratio represents a drastic change from two generations ago, when most women worked only at home (see Figure 5). Indeed, the massive entrance of women into the paid labor force was one of the major social transformations of American life during the second half of the twentieth century. In 1950, just 29 percent of women worked in the marketplace; now almost 60 percent do. As Figure 6 shows, the share of women in the labor forces of other industrial countries has also been growing. The expanding role of women in the labor market has raised many controversial questions—whether they are discriminated against (the evidence suggests that they are), whether the government should compel employers to provide maternity leave, and so on. FIGURE 5

SOURCES: Economic Report of the President (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office), 2008; Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Women in the Labor Force: A Databook (2009 edition)," http://www.bls.gov/cps/wlf-databook-2009.pdf.

The Composition of Employment by Sex, 1950 and 2008

Women 29% Men 53.3%

Women 46.7%

Men 71%

1950

2008

SOURCES: “A Survery of Women and Work,” The Economist, July 18, 1998, P. 4; and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Labor Force Statistics, 1985–2005, http://www.sourceoecd.org.

FIGURE 6 Working Women as a Percentage of the Labor Force, 1960 versus 2005

Sweden United States France United Kingdom Germany Netherlands Japan 2005 1960

Spain Italy 0

5

10

15

20

25

30

35

40

45

50

In contrast to women, the percentage of teenagers in the workforce has dropped significantly since its peak in the mid-1970s (see Figure 7). Young men and women aged 16 to 19 accounted for 8.6 percent of employment in 1974 but only 3.8 percent in 2008. As the baby boom gave way to the baby bust, people under 20 became scarce resources! Still,

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FIGURE 7

Percentage of Total Civilian Employment

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

19 5 19 0 5 19 2 5 19 4 5 19 6 5 19 8 6 19 0 6 19 2 6 19 4 6 19 6 6 19 8 7 19 0 7 19 2 7 19 4 7 19 6 7 19 8 8 19 0 8 19 2 8 19 4 8 19 6 8 19 8 9 19 0 9 19 2 9 19 4 9 19 6 9 20 8 0 20 0 0 20 2 0 20 4 0 20 6 08

0

Year

SOURCE: Economic Report of the President (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, various years).

Teenage Employment as a Percentage of Total Employment, 1950–2008

nearly 6 million teenagers hold jobs in the U.S. economy today—a number that has been pretty stable in the past few years. Most teenagers fill low-wage jobs at fast-food restaurants, amusement parks, and the like. Relatively few can be found in the nation’s factories.

The American Workforce: What Does It Do?

SOURCE: Bureau of labor statistics. Economic News Report. Employment Situation Summary www.bls.gov, accessed December 2009

What do these 140 million working Americans do? The only real answer is: almost anything you can imagine. In May 2008, America had 110,990 architects, 394,230 computer programmers, more than 899,920 carpenters, more than 2.6 million truck drivers, 553,690 lawyers, roughly 1.5 million secretaries, 174,530 kinF I GURE 8 dergarten teachers, 29,170 pediatricians, 63,030 tax preCivilian Non-Farm Payroll Employment by Sector, Nov 2009 parers, 6,900 geological engineers, 298,900 fire fighters, and 12,600 economists.2 Figure 8 shows the breakdown by sector. It holds some surprises for most people. The majority of American workers—like workers in all developed countries— produce services, not goods. In 2009, about 68 percent of all non-farm workers in the United States were employed Service producing Manufacturing 9.1% (minus government) by private service industries, whereas only about 14 per68.5% cent produced goods. These legions of service workers included about 16.5 million in educational and health Other goods services, about 17.7 million in business and professional producing services, and over 15 million in retail trade. (The biggest Government 4.8% single private employer in the country is Wal-Mart.) By 17.6% contrast, manufacturing companies in the United States employed only 12 million people, and almost a third of those worked in offices rather than in the factory. The Homer Simpson image of the typical American worker as NOTE: Numbers may not add to 100% due to rounding. a blue-collar worker is really quite misleading.

2

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2008, http://www.bls.gov.

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The Economy: Myth and Reality

Chapter 2

Federal, state, and local governments employed about 22 million people but, contrary to another popular misconception, few of these civil servants work for the federal government. Federal civilian employment is about 2.7 million—about 10 percent lower than it was in the 1980s. (The armed forces employ about another 1.5 million men and women in uniform.) State and local governments provide about 19.5 million jobs—or about seven times the number of federal government jobs. In addition to the jobs categorized in Figure 8, approximately 2 million Americans work on farms and over 10 million are self-employed. As Figure 9 shows, all industrialized countries have become “service economies” in recent decades. To a considerable degree, this shift to services reflects the arrival of the “Information Age.” Activities related to computers, to research, to the transmission of information by teaching and publication, and other information-related activities are providing many of the new jobs. This means that, in the rich economies, workers who moved out of manufacturing jobs into the service sectors have not gone predominantly into lowskill jobs such as dishwashing or housecleaning. Many found employment in service jobs in which education and experience provide a great advantage. At the same time, technological change has made it possible to produce more and more manufactured products using fewer and fewer workers. Such labor-saving innovation in manufacturing has allowed a considerable share of the labor force to move out of goods-producing jobs and into services. FIGURE 9

90 Service Sector Jobs as a Percent of the Total Labor Force

SOURCES: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Quarterly Labour Force Statistics, various issues; and Labour Force Statistics, 1985–2005, http://www.sourceoecd.org.

The Growing Share of Service Sector Jobs, 1967 versus 2005

1967 2005

80 70

64.6

64.8

73.9 67.6

76

75.3

76.5

67.6 58.9

58.7

60 50 42.8 40 38.3

78.6

45.1

44.8

48.8

50.8

36.2

30 20 10 0 Italy

Spain Germany Japan

France

Canada Sweden United United Kingdom States

The American Workforce: What It Earns Altogether, these workers’ wages account for over 70 percent of the income that the production process generates. That figures up to an average hourly wage of over $18—plus fringe benefits like health insurance and pensions, which can contribute an additional 30 to 40 percent for some workers. Because the average workweek is about 34 hours long, a typical weekly paycheck in the United States is about $630 before taxes (but excluding the value of benefits). That is hardly a princely sum, and most college graduates can expect to earn substantially more.3 But it is typical of average wage rates in a rich country like the United States. These days, college graduates typically earn over 80 percent more than workers with only high school diplomas. SOURCE: Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey.” Earnings by education, http://www.bls.gov.

3

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Wages throughout northern Europe are similar. Indeed, workers in a number of other industrial countries now receive higher compensation than American workers do—a big change from the situation a few decades ago. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2007 workers in U.S. manufacturing industries made less than those in many European countries (see Figure 10). However, U.S. compensation levels still remain above those in Japan and many other countries. FIGURE 10

55 51.38

Average Hourly Compensation Rates in Manufacturing, 2007

50

39.47 37.68 38.75 38.80

40 35

31.39 32.06 32.19

30 25

23.95

20 15 10 5 Germany

Netherlands

Sweden

Belgium

France

Italy

Canada

United States

Japan

0

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Division of Foreign Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov.

U.S. Dollars (at purchasing power parities)

45

Capital and Its Earnings The rest of national income (after deducting the small sliver of income that goes to the owners of land and natural resources) mainly accrues to the owners of capital—the machines and buildings that make up the nation’s industrial plant. The total market value of these business assets—a tough number to estimate—is believed to be in the neighborhood of $30 trillion. Because that capital earns an average rate of return of about 10 percent before taxes, total earnings of capital—including corporate profits, interest, and all the rest—come to about $3 trillion. Public opinion polls routinely show that Americans have a distorted view of the level of business profits in our society. The man and woman on the street believe that corporate profits after tax account for about 30 percent of the price of a typical product (see the box “Public Opinion on Profits” on the next page). The right number is closer to 8 percent.

THE OUTPUTS: WHAT DOES AMERICA PRODUCE? What does all this labor and capital produce? Consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of GDP. And what an amazing variety of goods and services it buys. American households spend roughly 66 percent of their budgets on services, with housing commanding the largest share. They also spend about $168 billion annually on their telephone bills, over $35 billion on airline tickets, and $90 billion on dentists. The other 34 percent of American budgets goes for goods—ranging from about $342 billion per year on motor vehicles to almost $60 billion on shoes.

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31

The Economy: Myth and Reality

Chapter 2

Public Opinion on Profits

* This poll was conducted in 1986. Corporate profit rates increased considerably in the 1990s and 2000s.

35 Profit per Dollar of Sales (%)

Most Americans think corporate profits are much higher than they actually are. One public opinion poll years ago found that the average citizen thought that corporate profits after taxes amounted to 32 percent of sales for the typical manufacturing company. The actual profit rate at the time was closer to 4 percent!* Interestingly, when a previous poll asked how much profit was “reasonable,” the response was 26 cents on every dollar of sales—more than six times as large as profits actually were.

32%

30 26% 25 20 15 10 3.8%

5 0

SOURCE: “Public Attitudes toward Corporate Profits,” Public Opinion Index (Princeton, NJ: Opinion Research Corporation, June 1986).

What people think is a “reasonable” corporate profit

What people estimate corporate profit is

Actual corporate profit

This leaves about 30 percent of GDP for all nonconsumption uses. That includes government services (buying such things as airplanes, guns, and the services of soldiers, teachers, and bureaucrats), business purchases of machinery and industrial structures, and consumer purchases of new houses.

THE CENTRAL ROLE OF BUSINESS FIRMS Calvin Coolidge once said that “the business of America is business.” Although this statement often has been ridiculed, he was largely right. When we peer inside the economic machine that turns inputs into outputs, we see mainly private companies. Astonishingly, the United States has more than 25 million business firms—about one for every 12 people! The owners and managers of these businesses hire people, acquire or rent capital goods, and arrange to produce things consumers want to buy. Sound simple? It isn’t. Over 80,000 businesses fail every year. A few succeed spectacularly. Some do both. Fortunately for the U.S. economy, however, the lure of riches induces hundreds of thousands of people to start new businesses every year—against the odds. A number of the biggest firms do business all over the world, just as foreign-based multinational corporations do business here. Indeed, some people claim that it is now impossible to determine the true “nationality” of a multinational corporation—which may have factories in ten or more countries, sell its wares all over the world, and have stockholders in dozens of nations. (See the box “Is That an American Company?” on the next page). Ford, for example, generates more profits abroad than at home, and the Toyota you drive was probably assembled in the United States. Firms compete with other companies in their industry. Most economists believe that this competition is the key to industrial efficiency. A sole supplier of a commodity will find it easy to make money, and may therefore fail to innovate or control costs. Its management is liable to become relaxed and sloppy. But a company besieged by dozens of competitors eager to take its business away must constantly seek ways to innovate, to cut costs, and to

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Is That an American Company?

What’s the difference between an “American” corporation that makes or buys abroad much of what it sells around the world and a “foreign” corporation that makes or buys in the United States much of what it sells? . . . The mind struggles to keep the players straight. In 1990, Canada’s Northern Telecom was selling to its American customers telecommunications equipment made by Japan’s NTT at NTT’s factory in North Carolina. If you found that one too easy, try this: Beginning in 1991, Japan’s Mazda would be producing Ford Probes at Mazda’s plant in Flat Rock, Michigan. Some of these cars would be exported to Japan and sold there under Ford’s trademark. A Mazda-designed compact utility vehicle would be built at a Ford plant in Louisville, Kentucky, and then sold at Mazda dealerships in the United States. Nissan, meanwhile, was designing a new light truck at its San Diego, California, design center. The trucks would be assembled at Ford’s Ohio truck plant, using

panel parts fabricated by Nissan at its Tennessee factory, and then marketed by both Ford and Nissan in the United States and in Japan. Who is Ford? Nissan? Mazda?

SOURCE: © AP IMAGES/Greg Campbell

Robert Reich, who was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, argued some years ago that it was already nearly impossible to define the nationality of a multinational company. Although many scholars think Reich exaggerated the point, no one doubts that he had one—nor that the nationalities of corporations have become increasingly blurred since then. He wrote in 1991:

SOURCE: Robert B. Reich, The Work of Nations (New York: Knopf, 1991), pp. 124, 131.

build a better mousetrap. The rewards for business success can be magnificent. But the punishment for failure is severe.

WHAT’S MISSING FROM THE PICTURE? GOVERNMENT Thus far, we have the following capsule summary of how the U.S. economy works: More than 25 million private businesses, energized by the profit motive, employ about 140 million workers and about $30 trillion of capital. These firms bring their enormously diverse wares to a bewildering variety of different markets, where they try to sell them to over 300 million consumers. It is in markets—places where goods and services are bought and sold—that these millions of households and businesses meet to conduct transactions, as depicted in Figure 11. Only a few of these markets are concrete physical locations, such as fish markets or stock exchanges. Most are more abstract “places,” where business may be conducted by telephone or the Internet—even if the commodity being traded is a physical object. For example, there are no centralized physical marketplaces for buying cars or computers, but there are highly competitive markets for these goods nonetheless. As Figure 11 suggests, firms use their receipts from selling goods and services in the markets for outputs to pay wages to employees and interest and profits to the people who provide capital in the markets for inputs. These income flows, in turn, enable consumers to purchase the goods and services that companies produce. This circular flow of money, goods, and factors of production lies at the center of the analysis of how the national economy works. All these activities are linked by a series of interconnected markets, some of which are highly competitive and others of which are less so.

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The Economy: Myth and Reality

Chapter 2

FIGURE 11 The Circular Flow of Goods and Money

s ture ndi es e p ervic Ex nd s a s od Go

Markets for Outputs

Sale s

Good s

re c eip ts and ser vic es

Households

Businesses

La

bo

r, c api t a l, etc. Inc om e s

Markets for Inputs

tc. c. l, e a t i et p t, , ca r s o b e a r L inte e s, Wag

All very well and good. But the story leaves out something important: the role of government, which is pervasive even in our decidedly free-market economy. Just what does government do in the U.S. economy—and why? Although an increasing number of tasks seem to get assigned to the state each year, the traditional role of government in a market economy revolves around five jobs: • • • • •

Making and enforcing the laws Regulating business Providing certain goods and services such as national defense Levying taxes to pay for these goods and services Redistributing income

Every one of these tasks is steeped in controversy and surrounded by intense political debate. We conclude this chapter with a brief look at each.

The Government as Referee For the most part, power is diffused in our economy, and people “play by the rules.” But, in the scramble for competitive advantage, disputes are bound to arise. Did Company A live up to its contract? Who owns that disputed piece of property? In addition, some unscrupulous businesses are liable to step over the line now and then—as we saw in many cases of fraud that helped bring on the debacle in sub-prime mortgages in 2007–2009. Enter the government as rule maker, referee, and arbitrator. Congress and state and local legislatures pass the laws that define the rules of the economic game. The executive branches of all three governmental levels share the responsibility for enforcing them. And the courts interpret the laws and adjudicate disputes.

The Government as Business Regulator Nothing is pure in this world of ours. Even in “free-market” economies, governments interfere with the workings of free markets in many ways and for myriad reasons. Some government activities seek to make markets work better. For example, America’s antitrust laws are used to protect competition against possible encroachment by monopoly. Some regulations seek to promote social objectives that unfettered markets do not foster—environmental regulations are a particularly clear case. But, as critics like to point out, some economic regulations have no clear rationale at all.

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We mentioned earlier that the American belief in free enterprise runs deep. For this reason, the regulatory role of government is more contentious here than in most other countries. After all, Thomas Jefferson said that government is best that governs least. Two hundred years later, Presidents Reagan, Bush (both of them), and Clinton all pledged to dismantle inappropriate regulations—and sometimes did. But the financial crisis of 2007–2009 has led to many calls for new and tighter regulations, especially in finance.

Government Expenditures The most contentious political issues often involve taxing and spending because those are the government’s most prominent roles. Democrats and Republicans, both in the White House and in Congress, have frequently battled fiercely over the federal budget. In 1995 and 1996, such disputes even led to some temporary shutdowns of the federal government. Under President Bill Clinton, the government managed to achieve a sizable surplus in its budget—meaning that tax receipts exceeded expenditures. But it didn’t last long. Today the federal budget is deeply in the red, and prospects for getting it balanced are poor. During fiscal year 2008, the federal government spent over $3.1 trillion—a sum that is literally beyond comprehension. Figure 12 shows where the money went. Over 31 percent went for pensions and income security programs, which include both social insurance programs (such as Social Security and unemployment compensation) and programs designed to assist the poor. About 21 percent went for national defense. Another 25 percent was absorbed by health-care expenditures, mainly on Medicare and Medicaid. Adding in interest on the national debt, these four functions alone accounted for over 86 percent of all federal spending. The rest went for a miscellany of other purposes including education, transportation, agriculture, housing, and foreign aid. Government spending at the state and local levels was about $2.0 trillion. Education claimed the largest share of state and local government budgets (35 percent), with health and public welfare programs a distant second (26 percent). Despite this vast outpouring of public funds, many observers believe that serious social needs remain unmet. Critics claim that our public infrastructure (such as bridges and roads) is adequate, that our educational system is lacking, that we are not spending enough on homeland defense, and so on. Although the scale and scope of government activity in the United States is substantial, it is quite moderate when we compare it to other leading economies, as we will see next.

FIGURE 12 The Allocation of Government Expenditures Federal

Interest 9.4%

State and Local

All other 13.3% All other 32.4% Pensions and Income Security 31.8%

National Defense 20.5% Health 25.0%

Education 35.2% Health and Public Welfare (includes health and welfare and social services, not disability) 26.4% Highways 6.0%

SOURCE: Bureau of Economic Analysis, NIPA Tables, Government Current Expenditures by Function, accessed Dec 2009, http://www.bea.gov

34

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35

The Economy: Myth and Reality

Chapter 2

Taxes in America Taxes finance this array of goods and services, and sometimes it seems that the tax collector is everywhere. We have income and payroll taxes withheld from our paychecks, sales taxes added to our purchases, property taxes levied on our homes; we pay gasoline taxes, liquor taxes, and telephone taxes. Americans have always felt that taxes are both too many and too high. In the 1980s and 1990s, antitax sentiment became a dominant feature of the U.S. political scene. The old slogan “no taxation without representation” gave way to the new slogan “no new taxes.” Yet, by international standards, Americans are among the most lightly taxed people in the world. Figure 13 compares the fraction of income paid in taxes in the United States with those paid by residents of other wealthy nations. The tax share in the United States fell notably during the early years of George W. Bush’s presidency, but has since crept up a bit and threatens to go higher. FIGURE 13 The Tax Burden in Selected Countries, 2007 50

48.2 43.6

43.3 38

36.6

36.2 29.7

28.3

27.9

United States

Japan

33.3 30

Switzerland

Tax Revenues as a Percentage of GDP

40

20

Canada

Germany

United Kingdom

Netherlands

Italy

France

0 Sweden

SOURCE: www.stats.oeced.org

10

The Government as Redistributor In a market economy, people earn incomes according to what they have to sell. Unfortunately, many people have nothing to sell but unskilled labor, which commands a paltry price. Others lack even that. Such people fare poorly in unfettered markets. In extreme cases, they are homeless, hungry, and ill. Robin Hood transferred money from the rich to the poor. Some think the government should do the same; others disagree. If poverty amid riches offends your moral sensibilities—a personal judgment that each of us must make for ourselves—two basic remedial approaches are possible. The socialist idea is to force the distribution of income to be more equal by overriding the decisions of the market. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” was Marx’s ideal. In practice, things were not quite so noble under socialism, but there was little doubt that incomes in the old Soviet Union were more equally distributed than those in the United States. The liberal idea is to let free markets determine the distribution of before-tax incomes, but then to use the tax system and transfer payments to reduce inequality—just as Robin Hood did. This is the rationale for, among other things, progressive taxation and antipoverty programs. Americans who support redistribution line up solidly behind the liberal approach. But which ways are the best, and how much is enough? No simple answers have emerged from many decades of debate on these highly contentious questions. Lately, as wage disparities have widened, the inequality issue has gained prominence on the national political agenda. It figured prominently in the 2008 presidential campaign, for example.

Transfer payments are sums of money that certain individuals receive as outright grants from the government rather than as payments for services rendered. A tax is progressive if the ratio of taxes to income rises as income rises.

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CONCLUSION: IT’S A MIXED ECONOMY

A mixed economy is one with some public influence over the workings of free markets. There may also be some public ownership mixed in with private property.

Ideology notwithstanding, all nations at all times blend public and private ownership of property in some proportions. All rely on markets for some purposes, but all also assign some role to government. Hence, people speak of the ubiquity of mixed economies. But mixing is not homogenization; different countries can and do blend the state and market sectors in different ways. Even today, the Russian economy is a far cry from the Italian economy, which is vastly different from that of Hong Kong. Shortly after most of you were born, a stunning historical event occurred: Communism collapsed all over Europe. For years, the formerly socialist economies suffered through a painful transition from a system in which private property, free enterprise, and markets played subsidiary roles to one in which they are central. These nations have changed the mix, if you will—and dramatically so. To understand why this transformation is at once so difficult and so important, we need to explore the main theme of this book: What does the market do well, and what does it do poorly? This task begins in the next chapter.

| SUMMARY | 5. Governments at the federal, state, and local levels employ one-sixth of the American workforce (including the armed forces). These governments finance their expenditures by taxes, which account for about 28 percent of GDP. This percentage is one of the lowest in the industrialized world.

1. The U.S. economy is the biggest national economy on earth, both because Americans are rich by world standards and because we are a populous nation. Relative to most other advanced countries, our economy is also exceptionally “privatized” and closed. 2. The U.S. economy has grown dramatically over the years. But this growth has been interrupted by periodic recessions, during which unemployment rises.

6. In addition to raising taxes and making expenditures, the government in a market economy serves as referee and enforcer of the rules, regulates business in a variety of ways, and redistributes income through taxes and transfer payments. For all these reasons, we say that we have a mixed economy, which blends private and public elements.

3. The United States has a big, diverse workforce whose composition by age and sex has been changing substantially. Relatively few workers these days work in factories or on farms; most work in service industries. 4. Employees take home most of the nation’s income. Most of the rest goes, in the forms of interest and profits, to those who provide the capital.

| KEY TERMS | closed economy

24

mixed economy

factors of production, or inputs 22

open economy

gross domestic product (GDP)

outputs

23

22

36 24

progressive tax recession

35

24

transfer payments

35

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Chapter 2

The Economy: Myth and Reality

37

| DISCUSSION QUESTIONS | 1. Which are the two biggest national economies on earth? Why are they so much bigger than the others?

4. Roughly speaking, what fraction of U.S. labor works in factories? In service businesses? In government?

2. What is meant by a “factor of production”? Have you ever sold any on a market?

5. Most American businesses are small, but most of the output is produced by large businesses. That sounds paradoxical. How can it be true?

3. Why do you think per capita income in Connecticut is nearly double that in West Virginia?

6. What is the role of government in a mixed economy?

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The Fundamental Economic Problem: Scarcity and Choice Our necessities are few but our wants are endless. I NS CRI P TI ON ON A F ORTU NE CO OK I E

U

nderstanding what the market system does well and what it does badly is this book’s central task. To address this complex issue, we must first answer a simpler one: What do economists expect the market to accomplish? The most common answer is that the market resolves what is often called the fundamental economic problem: how best to manage the resources of society, doing as well as possible with them, despite their scarcity. All decisions are constrained by the scarcity of available resources. A dreamer may envision a world free of want, in which everyone, even in Africa and Central America, drives a BMW and eats caviar, but the earth lacks the resources needed to make that dream come true. Because resources are scarce, all economic decisions involve trade-offs. Should you use that $5 bill to buy pizza or a new writing pad for econ class? Should General Motors invest more money in improving assembly lines or in research? A well-functioning market system facilitates and guides such decisions, assigning each hour of labor and each kilowatt-hour of electricity to the task where, it is hoped, the input will best serve the public. This chapter shows how economists analyze choices like these. The same basic principles, founded on the concept of opportunity cost, apply to the decisions made by business firms, governments, and society as a whole. Many of the most basic ideas of economics, such as efficiency, division of labor, comparative advantage, exchange, and the role of markets appear here for the first time.

C O N T E N T S ISSUE: WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE BUDGET DEFICIT?

ISSUE REVISITED: COPING WITH THE BUDGET

SCARCITY, CHOICE, AND OPPORTUNITY COST

THE CONCEPT OF EFFICIENCY

DEFICIT

Opportunity Cost and Money Cost Optimal Choice: Not Just Any Choice

THE THREE COORDINATION TASKS OF ANY ECONOMY

SCARCITY AND CHOICE FOR A SINGLE FIRM

TASK 1. HOW THE MARKET FOSTERS EFFICIENT RESOURCE ALLOCATION

The Production Possibilities Frontier The Principle of Increasing Costs

TASK 2. MARKET EXCHANGE AND DECIDING HOW MUCH OF EACH GOOD TO PRODUCE TASK 3. HOW TO DISTRIBUTE THE ECONOMY’S OUTPUTS AMONG CONSUMERS

The Wonders of the Division of Labor The Amazing Principle of Comparative Advantage

SCARCITY AND CHOICE FOR THE ENTIRE SOCIETY Scarcity and Choice Elsewhere in the Economy

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Getting Acquainted with Economics

ISSUE:

WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE BUDGET DEFICIT?

SOURCE: © Hisham Ibrahim/Photodisc/Getty Images

For roughly 15 years, from the early 1980s until the late 1990s, the top economic issue of the day was how to reduce the federal budget deficit. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton all battled with Congress over tax and spending priorities. Which programs should be cut? What taxes should be raised? Then, thanks to a combination of strong economic growth and deficit-reducing policies, the budget deficit melted away like springtime snow and actually turned into a budget surplus for a few fiscal years (1998 through 2001). For a while, the need to make agonizing choices seemed to disappear—or so it seemed. But it was an illusion. Even during that brief era of budget surpluses, hard choices still had to be made. The U.S. government could not afford everything. Then, as the stock market collapsed, the economy slowed, and President George W. Bush pushed a series of tax cuts through Congress, the budget surpluses quickly turned back into deficits again—the largest deficits in our history. The fiscal questions in the 2008 presidential campaign were the familiar ones of the 1980s and 1990s. Which spending programs should be cut and which ones should be increased? Which, if any, of the Bush tax cuts should be repealed? Even a government with an annual budget of over $2 trillion was forced to set priorities and make hard choices. Even when resources are quite generous, they are never unlimited; thus, everyone must still make tough choices. An optimal decision is one that chooses the most desirable alternative among the possibilities permitted by the available resources, which are always scarce in this sense.

SCARCITY, CHOICE, AND OPPORTUNITY COST Resources are the instruments provided by nature or by people that are used to create goods and services. Natural resources include minerals, soil, water, and air. Labor is a scarce resource, partly because of time limitations (the day has only 24 hours) and partly because the number of skilled workers is limited. Factories and machines are resources made by people. These three types of resources are often referred to as land, labor, and capital. They are also called inputs or factors of production.

One of the basic themes of economics is scarcity—the fact that resources are always limited. Even Philip II, of Spanish Armada fame and ruler of one of the greatest empires in history, had to cope with frequent rebellions in his armies when he could not meet their payrolls or even get them basic provisions. He is reported to have undergone bankruptcy an astonishing eight times during his reign. In more recent years, the U.S. government has been agonizing over difficult budget decisions even though it spends more than $2 trillion annually. But the scarcity of physical resources is more fundamental than the scarcity of funds. Fuel supplies, for example, are not limitless, and some environmentalists claim that we should now be making some hard choices—such as keeping our homes cooler in winter and warmer in summer and saving gas by living closer to our jobs. Although energy may be the most widely discussed scarcity, the general principle applies to all of the earth’s resources— iron, copper, uranium, and so on. Even goods produced by human effort are in limited supply because they require fuel, labor, and other scarce resources as inputs. We can manufacture more cars, but the increased use of labor, steel, and fuel in auto production will mean that we must cut back on something else, perhaps the production of refrigerators.

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Chapter 3

41

The Fundamental Economic Problem: Scarcity and Choice

This all adds up to the following fundamental principle of economics, which we will encounter again and again in this text: Virtually all resources are scarce, meaning that people have less of them than they would like. Therefore, choices must be made among a limited set of possibilities, in full recognition of the inescapable fact that a decision to have more of one thing means that people will have less of something else.

In fact, one popular definition of economics is the study of how best to use limited means to pursue unlimited ends. Although this definition, like any short statement, cannot possibly cover the sweep of the entire discipline, it does convey the flavor of the economist’s stock in trade. To illustrate the true cost of an item, consider the decision to produce additional cars and therefore to produce fewer refrigerators. Although the production of a car may cost $15,000 per vehicle, for example, its real cost to society is the refrigerators that society must forgo to get an additional car. If the labor, steel, and energy needed to manufacture a car would be sufficient to make 30 refrigerators instead of the car, the opportunity cost of a car is 30 refrigerators. The principle of opportunity cost is so important that we will spend most of this chapter elaborating on it in various ways. HOW MUCH DOES IT REALLY COST? The Principle of Opportunity Cost Economics examines the options available to households, businesses, governments, and entire societies, given the limited resources at their command. It studies the logic of how people can make optimal decisions from among competing alternatives. One overriding principle governs this logic—a principle we introduced in Chapter 1 as one of the Ideas for Beyond the Final Exam: With limited resources, a decision to have more of one thing is simultaneously a decision to have less of something else. Hence, the relevant cost of any decision is its opportunity cost—the value of the next best alternative that is given up. Optimal decision making must be based on opportunity-cost calculations.

The opportunity cost of any decision is the value of the next best alternative that the decision forces the decision maker to forgo.

IDEAS FOR BEYOND THE FINAL EXAM

Because we live in a market economy where (almost) everything has its price, students often wonder about the connection or difference between an item’s opportunity cost and its market price. This statement seems to divorce the two concepts: The true opportunity cost of a car is not its market price but the value to their potential purchasers of the other things (like refrigerators) that could have been made or purchased instead. But isn’t the opportunity cost of a car related to its money cost? The normal answer is yes. The two costs are usually closely tied “O.K. who can put a price on love? Jim?” to one another because of the way in which a market economy sets prices. Steel, for example, is used to manufacture both automobiles and refrigerators. If consumers value items that can be made with steel (such as refrigerators) highly, then economists would say that the opportunity cost of making a car is high. But, under these circumstances, strong demand for this highly valued resource will bid up its market price. In this way, a well-functioning price system will assign a high price to steel, which will make the money cost of manufacturing a car high as well. In summary: If the market functions well, goods that have high opportunity costs will also have high money costs. In turn, goods that have low opportunity costs will also have low money costs.

Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to treat opportunity costs and explicit monetary costs as identical. For one thing, sometimes the market does not function well and hence assigns prices that do not accurately reflect opportunity costs. Moreover, some valuable items may not bear explicit price tags at all. We encountered one such example in Chapter 1, where we noted that the opportunity cost of a college education may differ sharply from its explicit money cost. Why? Because one important item is typically omitted from the money-cost Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

SOURCE: © 2002 The New Yorker Collection, 1991 Jack Ziegler from cartoonbank.com. All Rights Reserved.

Opportunity Cost and Money Cost

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Getting Acquainted with Economics

calculation: the market value of your time; that is, the wages you could earn by working instead of attending college. Because you give up these potential wages, which can amount to $15,000 per year or more in order to acquire an education, they must be counted as a major part of the opportunity cost of going to college. Other common examples where money costs and opportunity costs diverge are goods and services that are given away “free.” For example, some early settlers of the American West destroyed natural amenities such as forests and buffalo herds, which had no market price, leaving later generations to pay the opportunity costs in terms of lost resources. Similarly, you incur no explicit monetary cost to acquire an item that is given away for free. However, if you must wait in line to get the “free” commodity, you incur an opportunity cost equal to the value of the next best use of your time.

Optimal Choice: Not Just Any Choice How do people and firms make decisions? There are many ways, some of them based on hunches with little forethought; some are even based on superstition or the advice of a fortune teller. Often, when the required information is scarce and the necessary research and calculations are costly and difficult, the decision maker will settle on the first possibility that he can “live with”—a choice that promises to yield results that are not too bad and that seem fairly safe. The decision maker may be willing to choose this course even though he recognizes that there might be other options that are better but are unknown to him. This way of deciding is called satisficing. In this book, we will assume that decision makers seek to do better than mere satisficing. Rather, we will assume that they seek to reach decisions that are optimal—decisions that do better in achieving the decision makers’ goals than any other possible choice. We will assume that the required information is available to the decision makers and we will study the procedures that enable them to determine the optimal choices. An optimal decision is one that best serves the objectives of the decision maker, whatever those objectives may be. It is selected by explicit or implicit comparison with the possible alternative choices. The term optimal does not mean that we, the observers or analysts, approve or disapprove of the objective itself.

An optimal decision for individual X is one that is selected after implicit or explicit comparison of the consequences of each of the possible choices and that is shown by analysis to be the one that most effectively promotes the goals of person X.

We will study optimal decision making by various parties—consumers, producers, and sellers—in a variety of situations. The methods of analysis for determining what choice is optimal in each case will be remarkably similar. So, if you understand one of them, you will already be well on your way to understanding them all. A technique called marginal analysis will be used for this purpose. But one fundamental idea underlies any method used for optimal decision making: To determine whether a possible decision is or is not optimal, its consequences must be compared with those of each of the other possible choices.

SCARCITY AND CHOICE FOR A SINGLE FIRM The outputs of a firm or an economy are the goods and services it produces. The inputs used by a firm or an economy are the labor, raw materials, electricity, and other resources it uses to produce its outputs.

The nature of opportunity cost is perhaps clearest in the case of a single business firm that produces two outputs from a fixed supply of inputs. Given current technology and the limited resources at its disposal, the more of one good the firm produces, the less of the other it will be able to make. Unless managers explicitly weigh the desirability of each product against the other, they are unlikely to make rational production decisions. Consider the example of Jones, a farmer whose available supplies of land, machinery, labor, and fertilizer are capable of producing the various combinations of soybeans and wheat listed in Table 1. Obviously, devoting more resources to soybean production means that Jones will produce less wheat. Table 1 indicates, for example, that if Jones grows only soybeans, the harvest will be 40,000 bushels. But if he reduces his soybean production to 30,000 bushels, he can also grow 38,000 bushels of wheat. Thus, the opportunity cost of obtaining 38,000 bushels of wheat is 10,000 fewer bushels of soybeans. Put another way, the opportunity cost of 10,000 more bushels of soybeans is 38,000 bushels of wheat. The other numbers in Table 1 have similar interpretations.

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The Fundamental Economic Problem: Scarcity and Choice

Chapter 3

Production Possibilities Open to a Farmer

Bushels of Soybeans

Bushels of Wheat

Label in Figure 1

40,000 30,000 20,000 10,000 0

0 38,000 52,000 60,000 65,000

A B C D E

Soybeans

TABLE 1 A 40 30 20

B Attainable region

Unattainable region C D

10 0 10

20 30 38 Wheat

E 52 60 65

NOTE: Quantities are in thousands of bushels per year.

FIGURE 1 The situation becomes a little more complicated when the objective of the farmer is to earn as large a money profit as possible, rather than maximizing quantity of wheat or soybeans. Suppose producing 38,000 bushels of wheat requires Jones to give up 10,000, bushels of soybeans and $4,000 is the profit he would earn if he chose the wheat output, whereas $1,200 is the profit offered by the soybean option (that would have to be given up if wheat specialization were decided upon). Then the opportunity cost that our farmer would incur is not the 10,000 bushels of soybeans, but the $12,000 in profits that substitution of soybean production would offer.

Production Possibilities Frontier for Production by a Single Farmer

The Production Possibilities Frontier Figure 1 presents this same information graphically. Point A indicates that one of the options available to the farmer is to produce 40,000 bushels of soybeans and 0 wheat. Thus, point A corresponds to the first line of Table 1, point B to the second line, and so on. Curves similar to AE appear frequently in this book; they are called production possibilities frontiers. Any point on or inside the production possibilities frontier is attainable because it does not entail larger outputs than currently available resources permit. Points outside the frontier, representing very large quantities of output, are figments of the imagination given current circumstances because they cannot be achieved with the available resources and technology. Because resources are limited, the production possibilities frontier always slopes downward to the right. The farmer can increase wheat production (move to the right in Figure 1) only by devoting more land and labor to growing wheat, but this choice simultaneously reduces soybean production (the curve must move downward) because less land and labor remain available for growing soybeans. Notice that, in addition to having a negative slope, our production possibilities frontier AE has another characteristic: It is “bowed outward.” What does this curvature mean? In short, as larger and larger quantities of resources are transferred from the production of one output to the production of another, the additions to the second product decline. Suppose farmer Jones initially produces only soybeans, using even land that is comparatively most productive in wheat cultivation (point A). Now he decides to switch some land from soybean production into wheat production. Which part of the land will he switch? If Jones is sensible, he will use the part that, because of its chemical content, direction in relation to sunlight, and so on, is relatively most productive in growing wheat. As he shifts to point B, soybean production falls from 40,000 bushels to 30,000 bushels as wheat production rises from 0 to 38,000 bushels. A sacrifice of only 10,000 bushels of soybeans “buys” 38,000 bushels of wheat. Imagine now that our farmer wants to produce still more wheat. Figure 1 tells us that the sacrifice of an additional 10,000 bushels of soybeans (from 30,000 bushels to 20,000 bushels) will yield only 14,000 more bushels of wheat (see point C). Why? The main reason is that inputs tend to be specialized. As we noted at point A, the farmer was using resources for soybean production that were relatively more productive in growing wheat.

A production possibilities frontier shows the different combinations of various goods, any one of which a producer can turn out, given the available resources and existing technology.

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Part 1

Getting Acquainted with Economics

Consequently, their relative productivity in soybean production was low. When these resources are switched to wheat production, the yield is high. This trend cannot continue forever, of course. As more wheat is produced, the farmer must utilize land and machinery with a greater productivity advantage in growing soybeans and a smaller productivity advantage in growing wheat. This is why the first 10,000 bushels of soybeans forgone “buys” the farmer 38,000 bushels of wheat, whereas the second 10,000 bushels of soybeans “buys” only 14,000 bushels of wheat. Figure 1 and Table 1 show that these returns continue to decline as wheat production expands: The next 10,000-bushel reduction in soybean production yields only 8,000 bushels of additional wheat, and so on. If the farmer’s objective is to maximize the amount of wheat or soybean product he gets out of his land and labor then, as we can see, the slope of the production possibilities frontier graphically represents the concept of opportunity cost. Between points C and B, for example, the opportunity cost of acquiring 10,000 additional bushels of soybeans is shown on the graph to be 14,000 bushels of forgone wheat; between points B and A, the opportunity cost of 10,000 bushels of soybeans is 38,000 bushels of forgone wheat. In general, as we move upward to the left along the production possibilities frontier (toward more soybeans and less wheat), the opportunity cost of soybeans in terms of wheat increases. Looking at the same thing the other way, as we move downward to the right, the opportunity cost of acquiring wheat by giving up soybeans increases—more and more soybeans must be forgone per added bushel of wheat and successive addition to wheat output occur.

The Principle of Increasing Costs The principle of increasing costs states that as the production of a good expands, the opportunity cost of producing another unit generally increases.

FIGURE 2

Black Shoes

Production Possibilities Frontier without Specialized Resources

We have just described a very general phenomenon with applications well beyond farming. The principle of increasing costs states that as the production of one good expands, the opportunity cost of producing another unit of this good generally increases. This principle is not a universal fact—exceptions do arise—but it does seem to be a technological regularity that applies to a wide range of economic activities. As our farming example suggests, the principle of increasing costs is based on the fact that resources tend to be at least somewhat specialized. So we lose some of their productivity when those resources are transferred from doing what they are relatively good at to what they are relatively bad at. In terms of diagrams such as Figure 1, the principle simply asserts that the production possibilities frontier is bowed outward. Perhaps the best way to understand this idea is to contrast it with a case in which no resources are specialized so costs do not increase as output proportion changes. Figure 2 depicts a production possibilities frontier for producing black shoes and brown shoes. Because the labor and machinery used to produce black shoes are just as good at producing brown shoes, the frontier is a straight line. If the firm cuts back its 50 production of black shoes by 10,000 pairs, it can produce 10,000 additional A pairs of brown shoes, no matter how big 40 the shift between these two outputs. It loses no productivity in the switch B 30 because resources are not specialized. C

20

D

10 0 10

20

30

Brown Shoes NOTE: Quantities are in thousands of pairs per week.

40

50

More typically, however, as a firm concentrates more of its productive capacity on one commodity, it is forced to employ inputs that are better suited to making another commodity. The firm is forced to vary the proportions in which it uses inputs because of the limited quantities of some of those inputs. This fact also explains the typical curvature of the firm’s production possibilities frontier.

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Chapter 3

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The Fundamental Economic Problem: Scarcity and Choice

SCARCITY AND CHOICE FOR THE ENTIRE SOCIETY Like an individual firm, the entire economy is also constrained by its limited resources and technology. If the public wants more aircraft and tanks, it will have to give up some boats and automobiles. If it wants to build more factories and stores, it will have to build fewer homes and sports arenas. In general: The position and shape of the production possibilities frontier that constrains society’s choices are determined by the economy’s physical resources, its skills and technology, its willingness to work, and how much it has devoted in the past to the construction of factories, research, and innovation.

FIGURE 3 Production Possibilities Frontier for the Entire Economy

Thousands of Automobiles per Year

Because so many nations have long debated whether to reduce or augment military spending, let us exemplify the nature of soci700 ety’s choices by deciding between military might (represented by B missiles) and civilian consumption (represented by automobiles). 600 Just like a single firm, the economy as a whole faces a production possibilities frontier for missiles and autos, determined by its techD 500 nology and the available resources of land, labor, capital, and raw materials. This production possibilities frontier may look like E 400 curve BC in Figure 3. If most workers are employed in auto plants, car production will be large, but the output of missiles will be small. If the economy transfers resources out of auto manufacturG 300 ing when consumer demand declines, it can, by congressional action, alter the output mix toward more missiles (the move from 200 D to E). However, something is likely to be lost in the process because physical resources are specialized. The fabric used to 100 make car seats will not help much in missile production. The principle of increasing costs strongly suggests that the production pos0 100 200 300 400 sibilities frontier curves downward toward the axes. We may even reach a point where the only resources left are Missiles per Year not very useful outside of auto manufacturing. In that case, even a large sacrifice of automobiles will get the economy few additional missiles. That is the meaning of the steep segment, FC, on the frontier. At point C, there is little additional output of missiles as compared to point F, even though at C automobile production has been given up entirely. The downward slope of society’s production possibilities frontier implies that hard choices must be made. Civilian consumption (automobiles) can be increased only by decreasing military expenditure, not by rhetoric or wishing. The curvature of the production possibilities frontier implies that as defense spending increases, it becomes progressively more expensive to “buy” additional military strength (“missiles”) in terms of the resulting sacrifice of civilian consumption.

Scarcity and Choice Elsewhere in the Economy We have emphasized that limited resources force hard choices on business managers and society as a whole, but the same type of choices arises elsewhere—in households, universities, and other nonprofit organizations, as well as the government. The nature of opportunity cost is perhaps most obvious for a household that must decide how to divide its income among the goods and services that compete for the family’s attention. If the Simpson family buys an expensive new car, they may be forced to cut back sharply on some other purchases. This fact does not make it unwise to buy the car, but it does make it unwise to buy the car until the family considers the full implications for its overall budget. If the Simpsons are to utilize their limited resources most effectively, they must recognize the opportunity costs of the car—the things they will forgo as a result— perhaps a vacation and an expensive new TV set. The decision to buy the car will be rational if the benefit to the family from the automobile (however measured) is greater than the opportunity cost—their benefit if they buy an equally expensive vacation or TV set instead. Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

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Hard Choices in the Real World This excerpt from a recent newspaper story brings home the realities of scarcity and choice: “President Barack Obama delivered a $3.6 trillion budget blueprint to Congress Thursday. . . . The budget blueprint for fiscal year 2010 is one of the most ambitious policy prescriptions in decades, a reordering of the federal government to provide national health care, shift the energy economy away from oil and gas, and boost the federal commitment to education. . . .

exemptions and itemized deductions would bring in another $180 billion. Higher capital gains rates would bring in $118 billion. The estate tax, scheduled to be repealed next year, would instead be preserved. . . .” SOURCE: Excerpted from Jonathan Weisman, “Obama Budget Pushes Sweeping Change”, ‘The Wall Street Journal’, February 27, 2009. Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal. Copyright © 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

SOURCE: © AP Photo/J. David Ake

Mr. Obama proposes large increases in education funding, including indexing Pell Grants for higher education to inflation and converting the popular scholarship to an automatic ‘entitlement’ program. High-speed rail would gain a $1 billion-a-year grant program, part of a larger effort to boost infrastructure spending. . . . To finance his proposals, the president has clearly chosen winners and losers—with the affluent heading the list of losers. . . . As expected, taxes will rise for singles earning $200,000 and couples earning $250,000, beginning in 2011—for a total windfall of $656 billion over 10 years. Income tax hikes would raise $339 billion alone. Limits on personal

ISSUE REVISITED

COPING WITH THE BUDGET DEFICIT

As already noted, even a rich and powerful nation like the United States must cope with the limitations implied by scarce resources. The necessity for choice imposed on governments by the limited amount they feel they can afford to spend is similar in character to the problems faced by business firms and households. For the goods and services that it buys from others, a government must prepare a budget similar to that of a very large household. For the items it produces itself—education, police protection, libraries, and so on—it faces a production possibilities frontier much like a business firm does. Even though the U.S. government spent over $2.6 trillion in 2006, some of the most acrimonious debates between then President Bush and his critics arose from disagreements about how the government’s limited resources should be allocated among competing uses. Even if unstated, the concept of opportunity cost is central to these debates.

THE CONCEPT OF EFFICIENCY So far, our discussion of scarcity and choice has assumed that either the firm or the economy always operates on its production possibilities frontier rather than below it. In other words, we have tacitly assumed that whatever the firm or economy decides to do, it does so efficiently.

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The Fundamental Economic Problem: Scarcity and Choice

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Economists define efficiency as the absence of waste. An efficient economy wastes none of its available resources and produces the maximum amount of output that its technology permits.

A set of outputs is said to be produced efficiently if, given current technological knowledge, there is no way one can produce larger amounts of any output without using larger input amounts or giving up some quantity of another output.

Chapter 3

To see why any point on the economy’s production possibilities frontier in Figure 3 (in a choice between missiles or automobiles or some combination of the two) represents an efficient decision, suppose for a moment that society has decided to produce 300 missiles. The production possibilities frontier tells us that if 300 missiles are to be produced, then the maximum number of automobiles that can be made is 500,000 (point D in Figure 3). The economy is therefore operating efficiently only if it produces 500,000 automobiles (when it manufactures 300 missiles) rather than some smaller number of cars, such as 300,000 (as at point G). Point D is efficient, but point G is not, because the economy is capable of moving from G to D, thereby producing 200,000 more automobiles without giving up any missiles (or anything else). Clearly, failure to take advantage of the option of choosing point D rather than point G constitutes a wasted opportunity—an inefficiency. Note that the concept of efficiency does not tell us which point on the production possibilities frontier is best. Rather, it tells us only that any point below the frontier cannot be best, because any such point represents wasted resources. For example, should society ever find itself at a point such as G, the necessity of making hard choices would (temporarily) disappear. It would be possible to increase production of both missiles and automobiles by moving to a point such as E. Why, then, would a society ever find itself at a point below its production possibilities frontier? Why are resources wasted in real life? The most important reason in today’s economy is unemployment. When many workers are unemployed, the economy must be at a point such as G, below the frontier, because by putting the unemployed to work in each industry, the economy could produce both more missiles and more automobiles. The economy would then move from point G to the right (more missiles) and upward (more automobiles) toward a point such as E on the production possibilities frontier. Only when no resources are wasted is the economy operating on the frontier. Inefficiency occurs in other ways, too. A prime example is assigning inputs to the wrong task—as when wheat is grown on land best suited to soybean cultivation. Another important type of inefficiency occurs when large firms produce goods that smaller enterprises could make better because they can pay closer attention to detail, or when small firms produce outputs best suited to large-scale production. Some other examples are the outright waste that occurs because of favoritism (for example, promotion of an incompetent brother-in-law to a job he cannot do very well) or restrictive labor practices (for example, requiring a railroad to keep a fireman on a diesel-electric locomotive where there is no longer a fire to tend). A particularly deplorable form of waste is caused by discrimination against minority or female workers. When a job is given, for example, to a white male in preference to an African-American woman who is more qualified, society sacrifices potential output and the entire community is apt to be affected adversely. Every one of these inefficiencies means that the community obtains less output than it could have, given the available inputs.

THE THREE COORDINATION TASKS OF ANY ECONOMY In deciding how to allocate its scarce resources, every society must somehow make three sorts of decisions: • First, as we have emphasized, it must figure out how to utilize its resources efficiently; that is, it must find a way to reach its production possibilities frontier. • Second, it must decide which of the possible combinations of goods to produce—how many missiles, automobiles, and so on; that is, it must select one specific point on

Allocation of resources refers to society’s decisions on how to divide up its scarce input resources among the different outputs produced in the economy and among the different firms or other organizations that produce those outputs.

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the production possibilities frontier among all of the points (that is, all of the output combinations) on the frontier. • Third, it must decide how much of the total output of each good to distribute to each person, doing so in a sensible way that does not assign meat to vegetarians and wine to teetotalers. There are many ways in which societies can and do make each of these decisions— to which economists often refer as how, what, and to whom? For example, a central planner may tell people how to produce, what to produce, and what to consume, as the authorities used to do, at least to some extent, in the former Soviet Union. But in a market economy, no one group or individual makes all such resource allocation decisions explicitly. Rather, consumer demands and production costs allocate resources automatically and anonymously through a system of prices and markets. As the formerly socialist countries learned, markets do an impressively effective job in carrying out these tasks. For our introduction to the ways in which markets do all this, let’s consider each task in turn.

TASK 1. HOW THE MARKET FOSTERS EFFICIENT RESOURCE ALLOCATION Production efficiency is one of the economy’s three basic tasks, and societies pursue it in many ways. However, one source of efficiency is so fundamental that we must single it out for special attention: the tremendous productivity gains that stem from specialization.

The Wonders of the Division of Labor Division of labor means breaking up a task into a number of smaller, more specialized tasks so that each worker can become more adept at a particular job.

Adam Smith, the founder of modern economics, first marveled at how division of labor raises efficiency and productivity when he visited a pin factory. In a famous passage near the beginning of his monumental book The Wealth of Nations (1776), he described what he saw: One man draws out the wire, another straightens it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head. To make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on is a peculiar business, to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper.1

SOURCE: © Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Smith observed that by dividing the work to be done in this way, each worker became quite skilled in a particular specialty, and the productivity of the group of workers as a whole was greatly enhanced. As Smith related it:

1 2

I have seen a small manufactory of this kind where ten men only were employed. . . . Those ten persons . . . could make among them upwards of forty-eight thousand pins in a day. . . . But if they had all wrought separately and independently . . . they certainly could not each of them have made twenty, perhaps not one pin in a day.2 In other words, through the miracle of division of labor and specialization, 10 workers accomplished what might otherwise have required thousands. This was one of the secrets of the Industrial Revolution, which helped lift humanity out of the abject poverty that had been its lot for centuries.

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (New York: Random House, 1937), p. 4. Ibid., p. 5.

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Chapter 3

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The Fundamental Economic Problem: Scarcity and Choice

The Amazing Principle of Comparative Advantage Specialization in production fosters efficiency in an even more profound sense. Adam Smith noticed that how goods are produced can make a huge difference to productivity, but so can which goods are produced. The reason is that people (and businesses and nations) have different abilities. Some can repair automobiles, whereas others are wizards with numbers. Some are handy with computers, and others can cook. An economy will be most efficient if people specialize in doing what they do best and then trade with one another, so that the accountant gets her car repaired and the computer programmer gets to eat tasty and nutritious meals. This much is obvious. What is less obvious—and is one of the great ideas of economics— is that two people (or two businesses or two countries) can generally gain from trade even if one of them is more efficient than the other in producing everything. A simple example will help explain why. Some lawyers can type better than their administrative assistants. Should such a lawyer fire her assistant and do her own typing? Not likely. Even though the lawyer may type better than the assistant, good judgment tells her to concentrate on practicing law and leave the typing to a lower-paid assistant. Why? Because the opportunity cost of an hour devoted to typing is the amount that she could earn from an hour less spent with clients, which is a far more lucrative activity. This example illustrates the principle of comparative advantage at work. The lawyer specializes in arguing cases despite her advantage as a typist because she has a still greater advantage as an attorney. She suffers some direct loss by leaving the typing to a less efficient employee, but she more than makes up for that loss by the income she earns selling her legal services to clients. Precisely the same principle applies to nations. As we shall learn in greater detail in Chapter 34, comparative advantage underlies the economic analysis of international trade patterns. A country that is particularly adept at producing certain items—such as aircraft in the United States, coffee in Brazil, and oil in Saudi Arabia—should specialize in those activities, producing more than it wants for its own use. The country can then take the money it earns from its exports and purchase from other nations items that it does not make for itself. And this is still true if one of the trading nations is the most efficient producer of almost everything. The underlying logic is precisely the same as in our lawyer-typist example. The United States might, for example, be better than South Korea at manufacturing both computers and television sets. But if the United States is vastly more efficient at producing computers, but only slightly more efficient at making TV sets, it pays for the United States to specialize in computer manufacturing, for South Korea to specialize in TV production, and for the two countries to trade. This principle, called the law of comparative advantage, was discovered by David Ricardo, another giant in the history of economic analysis, almost 200 years ago. It is one of the Ideas for Beyond the Final Exam introduced in Chapter 1. THE SURPRISING PRINCIPLE OF COMPARATIVE ADVANTAGE Even if one country (or one worker) is worse than another country (or another worker) in the production of every good, it is said to have a comparative advantage in making the good at which it is least inefficient—compared to the other country. Ricardo discovered that two countries can gain by trading even if one country is more efficient than another in the production of every commodity. Precisely the same logic applies to individual workers or to businesses. In determining the most efficient patterns of production and trade, it is comparative advantage that matters. Thus, a country can gain by importing a good from abroad even if that good can be produced more efficiently at home. Such imports make sense if they enable the country to specialize in producing those goods at which it is even more efficient. And the other, less efficient country should specialize in exporting the goods in whose production it is least inefficient.

One country is said to have a comparative advantage over another in the production of a particular good relative to other goods if it produces that good less inefficiently than it produces other goods, as compared with the other country.

IDEAS FOR BEYOND THE FINAL EXAM

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Getting Acquainted with Economics

TASK 2. MARKET EXCHANGE AND DECIDING HOW MUCH OF EACH GOOD TO PRODUCE The gains from specialization are welcome, but they create a problem: With specialization, people no longer produce only what they want to consume themselves. The workers in Adam Smith’s pin factory had no use for the thousands of pins they produced each day; they wanted to trade them for things like food, clothing, and shelter. Similarly, the administrative assistant in our law office example has no personal use for the legal briefs he types. Thus, specialization requires some mechanism by which workers producing pins can exchange their wares with workers producing such things as cloth and potatoes and office workers can turn their typing skills into things they want to consume. Without a system of exchange, the productivity miracle achieved by comparative advantage and the division of labor would do society little good, because each producer in an efficient arrangement would be left with only the commodities in whose production its comparative efficiency was greatest and would have no other goods to consume. With it, standards of living have risen enormously.

Although people can and do trade goods for other goods, a system of exchange works better when everyone agrees to use some common item (such as pieces of paper with unique markings printed on them) for buying and selling things. Enter money. Then workers in pin factories, for example, can be paid in money rather than in pins, and they can use this money to purchase cloth and potatoes. Textile workers and farmers can do the same. In a market in which trading is carried out by means of exchange between money and goods or services, the market mechanism also makes the second of our three crucial decisions: how much of each good should be produced with the resources that are available to the economy. For what happens is that if more widgets are produced than consumers want to buy at current prices, those who make widgets will be left with unsold widgets on their hands. Widget price will be driven down, and manufacturers will be forced to cut production, with some being driven out of business altogether. The opposite will happen if producers supply fewer widgets than consumers want at the prevailing prices. Then prices will be driven up by scarcity and manufacturers will be led to increase their output. In this way, the output and price of each and every commodity will be driven toward levels at which supply matches demand or comes very close to it. That is how the market automatically deals with the second critical decision: how much of each commodity will be produced by the economy given the economy’s productive capacity (as shown by the production possibility frontier).

TASK 3. HOW TO DISTRIBUTE THE ECONOMY’S OUTPUTS AMONG CONSUMERS

A market system is a form of economic organization in which resource allocation decisions are left to individual producers and consumers acting in their own best interests without central direction.

These two phenomena—specialization and exchange (assisted by money)—working in tandem led to vast increases in the abundance that the more prosperous economies of the world were able to supply. But that leaves us with the third basic issue: What forces allow those outputs to be distributed among the population in reasonable ways? What forces establish a smoothly functioning system of exchange so that people can first exploit their comparative advantages and then acquire what they want to consume? One alternative is to have a central authority telling people what to do. Adam Smith explained and extolled yet another way of organizing and coordinating economic activity—markets and prices can coordinate those activities. Smith noted that people are adept at pursuing their own self-interests and that a market system harnesses this self-interest remarkably well. As he put it—with clear religious overtones—in doing what is best for themselves, people are “led by an invisible hand” to promote the economic well-being of society as a whole. Those of us who live in a well-functioning market economy like that found in the United States tend to take the achievements of the market for granted, much like the daily rising and setting of the sun. Few bother to think about, say, the reason why Hawaiian pineapples show up daily in Vermont supermarkets in quantities desired by Vermont consumers. The

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The Fundamental Economic Problem: Scarcity and Choice

market deals with this issue through the profit motive, which guides firms’ output decisions, matching quantities produced to consumer preferences. A rise in the price of wheat because of increased demand for bread, for example, will persuade farmers to produce more wheat and devote less of their land to soybeans. Such a price system also distributes goods among consumers in accord with their tastes and preferences, using voluntary exchange to determine who gets what. Consumers spend their income on the things they like best (among those they can afford). Vegetarians do not waste their income on beef, and teetotalers do not spend money on gin. So consumers, by controlling their spending patterns, can ensure that the goods they buy at the supermarket are compatible with their preferences. That is how the market mechanism ensures that the products of the economy are divided among consumers in a rational manner, meaning that this distribution tends to fit in with the preferences of the different purchasers. But there is at least one problem here; the ability to buy goods is hardly divided equally. Workers with valuable skills and owners of scarce resources can sell what they have at attractive prices. With the incomes they earn, they can purchase generous amounts of goods and services. Those who are less successful in selling what they own receive lower incomes and so can afford to buy less. In extreme cases, they may suffer severe deprivation. The past few pages explain, in broad terms, how a market economy solves the three basic problems facing any society: how to produce any given combination of goods efficiently, how to select an appropriate combination of goods to produce, and how to distribute these goods sensibly among people. As we proceed through the following chapters, you will learn much more about these issues. You will see that they constitute the central theme that permeates not only this text but the work of economists in general. As you progress through this book, keep in mind two questions: • What does the market do well? • What does it do poorly? There are numerous answers to both questions, as you will learn in subsequent chapters. Society has many important goals. Some of them, such as producing goods and services with maximum efficiency (minimum waste), can be achieved extraordinarily well by letting markets operate more or less freely.

Free markets will not, however, achieve all of society’s goals. For example, they often have trouble keeping unemployment low. In fact, the unfettered operations of markets may even run counter to some goals, such as protection of the environment. Many observers also believe that markets do not necessarily distribute income in accord with ethical or moral norms. Even in cases in which markets do not perform well, there may be ways of harnessing the power of the market mechanism to remedy its own deficiencies, as you will learn in later chapters. Economic debates often have political and ideological overtones. So we will close this chapter by emphasizing that the central theme we have just outlined is neither a defense of nor an attack on the capitalist system. Nor is it a “conservative” position. One does not have to be a conservative to recognize that the market mechanism can be an extraordinarily helpful instrument for the pursuit of economic goals. Most of the formerly socialist countries of Europe have been working hard to “marketize” their Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

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SOURCE: © Plush Studios/Blend Images/Jupiterimages

Chapter 3

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Part 1

Getting Acquainted with Economics

economies, and even the communist People’s Republic of China has made huge strides in that direction. The point is not to confuse ends with means in deciding how much to rely on market forces. Liberals and conservatives surely have different goals, but the means chosen to pursue these goals should, for the most part, be chosen on the basis of how effective the selected means are, not on some ideological prejudgments. Even Karl Marx emphasized that the market is remarkably efficient at producing an abundance of goods and services that had never been seen in precapitalist history. Such wealth can be used to promote conservative goals, such as reducing tax rates, or to facilitate goals favored by liberals, such as providing more generous public aid for the poor. Certainly the market cannot deal with every economic problem. Indeed, we have just noted that the market is the source of a number of significant problems. Even so, the evidence accumulated over centuries leads economists to believe that most economic problems are best handled by market techniques. The analysis in this book is intended to help you identify both the objectives that the market mechanism can reliably achieve and those that it will fail to promote, or at least not promote very effectively. We urge you to forget the slogans you have heard—whether from the left or from the right—and make up your own mind after learning the material in this book.

| SUMMARY | 1. Supplies of all resources are limited. Because resources are scarce, an optimal decision is one that chooses the best alternative among the options that are possible with the available resources.

7. A firm or an economy that ends up at a point below its production possibilities frontier is using its resources inefficiently or wastefully. This is what happens, for example, when there is unemployment.

2. With limited resources, a decision to obtain more of one item is also a decision to give up some of another. The value of what we give up is called the opportunity cost of what we get. The opportunity cost is the true cost of any decision. This is one of the Ideas for Beyond the Final Exam.

8. Economists define efficiency as the absence of waste. It is achieved primarily by the gains in productivity brought about through specialization that exploits division of labor and comparative advantage and by a system of exchange.

3. When markets function effectively, firms are led to use resources efficiently and to produce the things that consumers want most. In such cases, opportunity costs and money costs (prices) correspond closely. When the market performs poorly, or when important, socially costly items are provided without charging an appropriate price, or are given away free, opportunity costs and money costs can diverge. 4. A firm’s production possibilities frontier shows the combinations of goods it can produce, given the current technology and the resources at its disposal. The frontier is usually bowed outward because resources tend to be specialized. 5. The principle of increasing costs states that as the production of one good expands, the opportunity cost of producing another unit of that good generally increases. 6. Like a firm, the economy as a whole has a production possibilities frontier whose position is determined by its technology and by the available resources of land, labor, capital, and raw materials.

9. Two countries (or two people) can gain by specializing in the activity in which each has a comparative advantage and then trading with one another. These gains from trade remain available even if one country is inferior at producing everything but specializes in producing those items at which it is least inefficient. This so-called principle of comparative advantage is one of our Ideas for Beyond the Final Exam. 10. If an exchange between two individuals is voluntary, both parties must benefit, even if no additional goods are produced. This is another of the Ideas for Beyond the Final Exam. 11. Every economic system must find a way to answer three basic questions: How can goods be produced most efficiently? How much of each good should be produced? How should goods be distributed among users? 12. The market system works very well in solving some of society’s basic problems, but it fails to remedy others and may, indeed, create some of its own. Where and how it succeeds and fails constitute the central theme of this book and characterize the work of economists in general.

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The Fundamental Economic Problem: Scarcity and Choice

Chapter 3

| KEY TERMS | allocation of scarce resources comparative advantage division of labor efficiency

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inputs 42 market system

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principle of increasing costs

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opportunity cost

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production possibilities frontier 43

optimal decision

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| TEST YOURSELF | 1. A person rents a house for $24,000 per year. The house can be purchased for $200,000, and the tenant has this much money in a bank account that pays 4 percent interest per year. Is buying the house a good deal for the tenant? Where does opportunity cost enter the picture?

3. Consider two alternatives for Stromboli in 2009. In case (a), its inhabitants eat 60 million pizzas and build 6,000 pizza ovens. In case (b), the population eats 15 million pizzas but builds 18,000 ovens. Which case will lead to a more generous production possibilities frontier for Stromboli in 2009?

2. Graphically show the production possibilities frontier for the nation of Stromboli, using the data given in the following table. Does the principle of increasing cost hold in Stromboli?

4. Jasmine’s Snack Shop sells two brands of potato chips. She produces them by buying them from a wholesale supplier. Brand X costs Jasmine $1 per bag, and Brand Y costs her $1.40. Draw Jasmine’s production possibilities frontier if she has $280 budgeted to spend on the purchase of potato chips from the wholesaler. Why is it not “bowed out”?

Stromboli’s 2004 Production Possibilities Pizzas per Year

Pizza Ovens per Year

75,000,000 60,000,000 45,000,000 30,000,000 15,000,000 0

0 6,000 11,000 15,000 18,000 18,000

| DISCUSSION QUESTIONS | 1. Discuss the resource limitations that affect a. the poorest person on earth b. Bill Gates, the richest person on earth c. a farmer in Kansas d. the government of Indonesia 2. If you were president of your college, what would you change if your budget were cut by 10 percent? By 25 percent? By 50 percent? 3. If you were to leave college, what things would change in your life? What, then, is the opportunity cost of your education?

Union. Try to describe how decisions on the number of chickens to be raised, and the amount of each feed to use in raising them, were made under the old communist regime. If the farm is now privately owned, how does the market guide the decisions that used to be made by the central planning agency? 5. The United States is one of the world’s wealthiest countries. Think of a recent case in which the decisions of the U.S. government were severely constrained by scarcity. Describe the trade-offs that were involved. What were the opportunity costs of the decisions that were actually made?

4. Raising chickens requires several types of feed, such as corn and soy meal. Consider a farm in the former Soviet

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Supply and Demand: An Initial Look The free enterprise system is absolutely too important to be left to the voluntary action of the marketplace. FLORI DA CONGRE S SM AN RI CHARD KEL LY, 1 9 7 9

I

n this chapter, we study the economist’s most basic investigative tool: the mechanism of supply and demand. Whether your econ course concentrates on macroeconomics or microeconomics, you will find that the so-called law of supply and demand is a fundamental tool of economic analysis. Economists use supply and demand analysis to study issues as diverse as inflation and unemployment, the effects of taxes on prices, government regulation of business, and environmental protection. Supply and demand curves—graphs that relate price to quantity supplied and quantity demanded, respectively—show how prices and quantities are determined in a free market.1 A major theme of the chapter is that governments around the world and throughout recorded history have tampered with the price mechanism. As we will see, these bouts with Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” have produced undesirable side effects that often surprised and dismayed the authorities. The invisible hand fights back!

C O N T E N T S PUZZLE: WHAT HAPPENED TO OIL PRICES?

SUPPLY AND DEMAND EQUILIBRIUM

THE INVISIBLE HAND

The Law of Supply and Demand

DEMAND AND QUANTITY DEMANDED The Demand Schedule The Demand Curve Shifts of the Demand Curve

SUPPLY AND QUANTITY SUPPLIED The Supply Schedule and the Supply Curve Shifts of the Supply Curve

EFFECTS OF DEMAND SHIFT ON SUPPLYDEMAND EQUILIBRIUM SUPPLY SHIFTS AND SUPPLY-DEMAND EQUILIBRIUM PUZZLE RESOLVED: THOSE LEAPING OIL PRICES Application: Who Really Pays That Tax?

BATTLING THE INVISIBLE HAND: THE MARKET FIGHTS BACK Restraining the Market Mechanism: Price Ceilings Case Study: Rent Controls in New York City Restraining the Market Mechanism: Price Floors Case Study: Farm Price Supports and the Case of Sugar Prices A Can of Worms

A SIMPLE BUT POWERFUL LESSON

1 This chapter, like much of the rest of this book, uses many graphs like those described in the appendix to Chapter 1. If you have difficulties with these graphs, we suggest that you review that material before proceeding.

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Getting Acquainted with Economics

PUZZLE:

WHAT HAPPENED TO OIL PRICES?

Since 1949, the dollars of purchasing power that a buyer had to pay to buy a barrel of oil had remained remarkably steady, and gasoline had generally remained a bargain. But during two exceptional time periods—one from about 1975 through 1985 and one beginning in 2003—oil prices exploded, and filling up the automobile gas tank became painful to consumers. Clearly, supply and demand changes must have been behind these developments, but what led them to change so much and so suddenly? Later in the chapter, we will provide excerpts from a newspaper story about how dramatic and unexpected events can suddenly shift supply and will help to bring the analysis of this chapter to life.

SOURCE: © AP Images/Paul Sakuma

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THE INVISIBLE HAND

Invisible hand is a phrase used by Adam Smith to describe how, by pursuing their own self-interests, people in a market system are “led by an invisible hand” to promote the well-being of the community.

Adam Smith, the father of modern economic analysis, greatly admired the price system. He marveled at its accomplishments—both as an efficient producer of goods and as a guarantor that consumers’ preferences are obeyed. Although many people since Smith’s time have shared his enthusiasm for the concept of the invisible hand, many have not. Smith’s contemporaries in the American colonies, for example, were often unhappy with the prices produced by free markets and thought they could do better by legislative decree. Such attempts failed, as explained in the accompanying box “Price Controls at Valley Forge.” In countless other instances, the public was outraged by the prices charged on the open market, particularly in the case of housing rents, interest rates, and insurance rates. Attempts to control interest rates (which are the price of borrowing money) go back hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, at least to the code of laws compiled under the Babylonian king Hammurabi in about 1800 B.C. Our historical legacy also includes a rather long list of price ceilings on foods and other products imposed in the reign of Diocletian, emperor of the declining Roman Empire. More recently, Americans have been offered the “protection” of a variety of price controls. Laws have placed ceilings on some prices (such as rents) to protect buyers, whereas legislation has placed floors under other prices (such as farm products) to protect sellers. Yet, somehow, everything such regulation touches seems to end up in even greater disarray than it was before. Despite rent controls, rents in New York City have soared. Despite laws against “scalping,” tickets for popular shows and sports events sell at tremendous premiums—tickets to the Super Bowl, for example, often fetch thousands of dollars on the “gray” market. To understand what goes wrong when we tamper with markets, we must first learn how they operate unfettered. This chapter takes a first step in that direction by studying the machinery of supply and demand. Then, at the end of the chapter, we return to the issue of price controls. Every market has both buyers and sellers. We begin our analysis on the consumers’ side of the market.

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George Washington, the history books tell us, was beset by many enemies during the winter of 1777–1778, including the British, their Hessian mercenaries, and the merciless winter weather. However, he had another enemy that the history books ignore—an enemy that meant well but almost destroyed his army at Valley Forge. As the following excerpt explains, that enemy was the Pennsylvania legislature: In Pennsylvania, where the main force of Washington’s army was quartered . . . the legislature . . . decided to try a period of price control limited to those commodities needed for use by the army. . . . The result might have been anticipated by those with some knowledge of the trials and tribulations of other states. The prices of uncontrolled goods, mostly imported, rose to record heights. Most farmers kept back their produce, refusing to sell at what they regarded as an unfair price. Some who had large families to take care of even secretly sold their food to the British, who paid in gold. After the disastrous winter at Valley Forge when Washington’s army nearly starved to death (thanks largely to these wellintentioned but misdirected laws), the ill-fated experiment in price controls was finally ended. The Continental Congress on June 4, 1778, adopted the following resolution: “Whereas . . . it hath been found by experience that limitations upon the prices of commodities are not only ineffectual for

SOURCE: Engraving “Men Gathering Wood at Valley Forge. “ Metropolitan Museum of Art, bequest of Charles Allen Munn, 1924 [24.90.1828]. All Rights Reserved, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Price Controls at Valley Forge

the purposes proposed, but likewise productive of very evil consequences . . . resolved, that it be recommended to the several states to repeal or suspend all laws or resolutions within the said states respectively limiting, regulating or restraining the Price of any Article, Manufacture or Commodity.” SOURCE: Robert L. Schuettinger and Eamonn F. Butler, Forty Centuries of Wage and Price Controls (Washington, DC: Heritage Foundation, 1979), p. 41. Reprinted by permission.

DEMAND AND QUANTITY DEMANDED People commonly think of consumer demands as fixed amounts. For example, when product designers propose a new computer model, management asks: “What is its market potential?”; that is, just how many are likely to be sold? Similarly, government bureaus conduct studies to determine how many engineers or doctors the United States will require (demand) in subsequent years. Economists respond that such questions are not well posed—that there is no single answer to such a question. Rather, they say, the “market potential” for computers or the number of engineers that will be “required” depends on a great number of influences, including the price charged for each. The quantity demanded of any product normally depends on its price. Quantity demanded also depends on a number of other determinants, including population size, consumer incomes, tastes, and the prices of other products.

Because prices play a central role in a market economy, we begin our study of demand by focusing on how quantity demanded depends on price. A little later, we will bring the other determinants of quantity demanded back into the picture. For now, we will consider all influences other than price to be fixed. This assumption, often expressed as “other things being equal,” is used in much of economic analysis. As an example of the relationship between price and demand, let’s think about the quantity of beef demanded. If the price of beef is very high, its “market potential” may be very small. People will find ways to get along with less beef, perhaps by switching to pork or fish. If the price of beef declines, people will tend to eat more beef. They may serve it more frequently or eat larger portions or switch away from fish. Thus:

The quantity demanded is the number of units of a good that consumers are willing and can afford to buy over a specified period of time.

There is no one demand figure for beef, or for computers, or for engineers. Rather, there is a different quantity demanded at each possible price, all other influences being held constant.

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Part 1

The Demand Schedule A demand schedule is a table showing how the quantity demanded of some product during a specified period of time changes as the price of that product changes, holding all other determinants of quantity demanded constant. A demand curve is a graphical depiction of a demand schedule. It shows how the quantity demanded of some product will change as the price of that product changes during a specified period of time, holding all other determinants of quantity demanded constant.

Table 1 shows how such information for beef can be recorded TABLE 1 in a demand schedule. It indicates how much beef conDemand Schedule for Beef sumers in a particular area are willing and able to buy at difPrice Quantity Label in ferent possible prices during a specified period of time, other per Pound Demanded Figure 1 things held equal. Specifically, the table shows the quantity $7.50 45 A of beef that will be demanded in a year at each possible price 7.40 50 B ranging from $6.90 to $7.50 per pound. At a relatively low 7.30 55 C price, such as $7.00 per pound, customers wish to purchase 7.20 60 E 70 (million) pounds per year. But if the price were to rise 7.10 65 F to, say, $7.40 per pound, quantity demanded would fall to 7.00 70 G 6.90 75 H 50 million pounds. Common sense tells us why this happens.2 First, as prices NOTE: Quantity is in pounds per year. rise, some customers will reduce the quantity of beef they consume. Second, higher prices will induce some customers to drop out of the market entirely—for example, by switching to pork or fish. On both counts, quantity demanded will decline as the price rises. As the price of an item rises, the quantity demanded normally falls. As the price falls, the quantity demanded normally rises, all other things held constant.

The Demand Curve

F I GURE 1 Demand Curve for Beef

D $7.50

A B

Price per Pound

7.40

C

7.30

E

7.20

F

7.10

G

7.00

H 6.90 D 0

45

50

55

60 65 70 Quantity Demanded in Millions of Pounds per Year

75

The information contained in Table 1 can be summarized in a graph like Figure 1, which is called a demand curve. Each point in the graph corresponds to a line in the table. This curve shows the relationship between price and quantity demanded. For example, it tells us that to sell 55 million pounds per year, the price must be $7.10 per pound. This relationship is shown at point G in Figure 1. If the price were $7.40, however, consumers would demand only 50 million pounds (point B). Because the quantity demanded declines as the price increases, the demand curve has a negative slope.3 Notice the last phrase in the definitions of the demand schedule and the demand curve: “holding all other determinants of quantity demanded constant.” What are some of these “other things,” and how do they affect the demand curve?

Shifts of the Demand Curve The quantity of beef demanded is subject to a variety of influences other than the price of beef. Changes in population size and characteristics, consumer incomes and tastes, and the prices of alternative products such as pork and fish presumably change the quantity of beef demanded, even if the price of beef does not change. Because the demand curve for beef depicts only the relationship between the quantity of beef demanded and the price of beef, holding all other factors constant, a change in beef

2 3

This commonsense answer is examined more fully in later chapters. If you need to review the concept of slope, refer back to Chapter 1’s appendix.

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Chapter 4

price moves the market for beef from one point on the demand curve to another point on the same curve. However, a change in any of these other influences on demand causes a shift of the entire demand curve. More generally: A change in the price of a good produces a movement along a fixed demand curve. By contrast, a change in any other variable that influences quantity demanded produces a shift of the entire demand curve.

If consumers want to buy more beef at every given price than they wanted previously, the demand curve shifts to the right (or outward). If they desire less at every given price, the demand curve shifts to the left (or inward toward the origin). Figure 2 shows this distinction graphically. If the price of beef falls from $7.30 to $7.10 per pound, and quantity demanded rises accordingly, we move along demand curve D0D0 from point C to point F, as shown by the blue arrow. If, on the other hand, consumers suddenly decide that they like beef better than before, or if they embrace a study that reports the health benefits of beef, the entire demand curve shifts outward from D0D0 to D1D1, as indicated by the brown arrows, meaning that at any given price consumers are now willing to buy more beef than before. To make this general idea more concrete, and to show some of its many applications, let us consider some specific examples of those “other things” that can shift demand curves.

A shift in a demand curve occurs when any relevant variable other than price changes. If consumers want to buy more at any and all given prices than they wanted previously, the demand curve shifts to the right (or outward). If they desire less at any given price, the demand curve shifts to the left (or inward).

FI GURE 2 Movements along versus Shifts of a Demand Curve

Consumer Incomes If average D1 D0 Price per Pound

incomes rise, consumers will purchase more of most goods, including beef, even if the prices of those goods remain the same. That is, increases in income normally shift demand curves outward to the right, as depicted in Figure 3(a), where the demand curve shifts outward from D0D0 to D1D1, establishing a new price and output quantity.

$7.30

7.10

C

F D1

Population Population growth afD0 fects quantity demanded in more or less the same way as increases in avQuantity Demanded in Millions of Pounds per Year erage incomes. For instance, a larger population will presumably want to consume more beef, even if the price of beef and average incomes do not change, thus shifting the entire demand curve to the right, as in Figure 3(a). The equilibrium price and quantity both rise. Increases in particular population segments can also elicit shifts in demand—for example, the United States experienced a miniature population boom between the late 1970s and mid-1990s. This group (which is dubbed Generation Y and includes most users of this book) has sparked higher demand for such items as cell phones and video games. In Figure 3(b), we see that a decrease in population should shift the demand curve for beef to the left, from D0D0 to D2D2.

Consumer Preferences If the beef industry mounts a successful advertising campaign extolling the benefits of eating beef, families may decide to buy more at any given price. If so, the entire demand curve for beef would shift to the right, as in Figure 3(a). Alternatively, a medical report on the dangers of high cholesterol may persuade consumers to eat less beef, thereby shifting the demand curve to the left, as in Figure 3(b). Again, these are general phenomena: If consumer preferences shift in favor of a particular item, its demand curve will shift outward to the right, as in Figure 3(a).

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F I GURE 3 Shifts of the Demand Curve

D1 D2

M D1 D2

An example is the ever-shifting “rage” in children’s toys—be it Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, electronic Elmo dolls, or the latest video games. These items become the object of desperate hunts as parents snap them up for their offspring, and stores are unable to keep up with the demand.

Prices and Availability of Related Goods Because pork, fish, and chicken are popular products that compete with beef, a change in the price of any of these other items can be expected to shift the demand curve for beef. If any of these alternative

Volatility in Electricity Prices

Critics point to opportunities for suppliers to interfere in the market system, including the withholding of power or limiting of production during periods of high demand, leading to skyrocketing prices. “Shutting down a power plant in July is like the mall closing on the weekend before Christmas, but in July last year, 20 percent of generating capacity was shut down in California,” said Robert McCullough, an economist whose Oregon consulting business is advising some of those contending in lawsuits that prices are being manipulated.

1,500

Price of Electricity

Rising fuel costs are one major reason. . . . Another factor is the very nature of electricity, which must be produced, transmitted and consumed in an instant . . . electricity cannot be held in inventory.

2,000

SOURCE: © AP Images/Paul Sakuma

The following newspaper story excerpts highlight the volatility of the electricity industry and its susceptibility to manipulation of the supply-demand mechanism and soaring prices. Although the industry was deregulated more than a decade ago, electricity prices have generally not fallen and, in many cases, have risen sharply. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission contends that allowing competition among producers should guarantee the lowest possible price. Why have electricity prices not fallen, unlike other previously regulated industries?

1,000

500

100 80 60 40 20 0

JUNE

JULY

AUGUST

NOTE: Quantity is in billions of quarts per year.

SOURCE: “Flaws Seen In Market for Utilities; Power Play: The Bidding Game” by David Cay Johnston, The New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast), November 21, 2006, p.C1.

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items becomes cheaper, some consumers will switch away from beef. Thus, the demand curve for beef will shift to the left, as in Figure 3(b). Other price changes may shift the demand curve for beef in the opposite direction. For example, suppose that hamburger buns and ketchup become less expensive. This may induce some consumers to eat more beef and thus shift the demand curve for beef to the right, as in Figure 3(a). In general: Increases in the prices of goods that are substitutes for the good in question (as pork, fish, and chicken are for beef ) move the demand curve to the right. Increases in the prices of goods that are normally used together with the good in question (such as hamburger buns and beef ) shift the demand curve to the left.

This is just what happened when a frost wiped out almost half of Brazil’s coffee bean harvest in 1995. The three largest U.S. coffee producers raised their prices by 45 percent, and, as a result, the demand curve for alternative beverages such as tea shifted to the right. Then in 1998, coffee prices dropped about 34 percent, which in turn caused the demand curve for tea to shift toward the left (or toward the origin). Although the preceding list does not exhaust the possible influences on quantity demanded, we have said enough to suggest the principles followed by demand and shifts of demand. Let’s turn now to the supply side of the market.

SUPPLY AND QUANTITY SUPPLIED Like quantity demanded, the quantity of beef that is supplied by business firms such as farms is not a fixed number; it also depends on many things. Obviously, we expect more beef to be supplied if there are more farms or more cows per farm. Cows may provide less meat if bad weather deprives them of their feed. As before, however, let’s turn our attention first to the relationship between the price and quantity of beef supplied. Economists generally suppose that a higher price calls forth a greater quantity supplied. Why? Remember our analysis of the principle of increasing costs in Chapter 3 (page 44). According to that principle, as more of any farmer’s (or the nation’s) resources are devoted to beef production, the opportunity cost of obtaining another pound of beef increases. Farmers will therefore find it profitable to increase beef production only if they can sell the beef at a higher price—high enough to cover the additional costs incurred to expand production. In other words, it normally will take higher prices to persuade farmers to raise beef production. This idea is quite general and applies to the supply of most goods and services.4 As long as suppliers want to make profits and the principle of increasing costs holds:

The quantity supplied is the number of units that sellers want to sell over a specified period of time.

As the price of any commodity rises, the quantity supplied normally rises. As the price falls, the quantity supplied normally falls.

The Supply Schedule and the Supply Curve Table 2 shows the relationship between the price of beef and its quantity supplied. Tables such as this one are called supply schedules; they show how much sellers are willing to provide during a specified period at alternative possible prices. This particular supply schedule tells us that a low price like $7.00 per pound will induce suppliers to provide only 50 million pounds, whereas a higher price like $7.30 will induce them to provide much more—55 million pounds.

4

A supply schedule is a table showing how the quantity supplied of some product changes as the price of that product changes during a specified period of time, holding all other determinants of quantity supplied constant.

This analysis is carried out in much greater detail in later chapters.

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F I GURE 4

TABLE 2

Supply Curve for Beef

Supply Schedule for Beef a

$7.50

S b

Price per Pound

7.40 c 7.30 e 7.20 f 7.10

Price per Pound

Quantity Supplied

Label in Figure 4

$7.50 7.40 7.30 7.20 7.10 7.00 6.90

90 80 70 60 50 40 30

a b c e f g h

g NOTE: Quantity is in pounds per year.

7.00 h 6.90 0

S 30

A supply curve is a graphical depiction of a supply schedule. It shows how the quantity supplied of a product will change as the price of that product changes during a specified period of time, holding all other determinants of quantity supplied constant.

40

50 60 70 80 Quantity Supplied in Millions of Pounds per Year

90

As you might have guessed, when such information is plotted on a graph, it is called a supply curve. Figure 4 is the supply curve corresponding to the supply schedule in Table 2, showing the relationship between the price of beef and the quantity supplied. It slopes upward—it has a positive slope—because quantity supplied is higher when price is higher. Notice again the same phrase in the definition: “holding all other determinants of quantity supplied constant.” What are these “other determinants”?

Shifts of the Supply Curve Like quantity demanded, the quantity supplied in a market typically responds to many influences other than price. The weather, the cost of feed, the number and size of farms, and a variety of other factors all influence how much beef will be brought to market. Because the supply curve depicts only the relationship between the price of beef and the quantity of beef supplied, holding all other influences constant, a change in any of these other determinants of quantity supplied will cause the entire supply curve to shift. That is: A change in the price of the good causes a movement along a fixed supply curve. Price is not the only influence on quantity supplied, however. If any of these other influences change, the entire supply curve shifts.

Figure 5 depicts this distinction graphically. A rise in price from $7.10 to $7.30 will raise quantity supplied by moving along supply curve S0S0 from point f to point c. Any rise in quantity supplied attributable to an influence other than price, however, will shift the entire supply curve outward to the right, from S0S0 to S1S1, as shown by the brown arrows. Let us consider what some of these other influences are and how they shift the supply curve.

Size of the Industry We begin with the most obvious influence. If more farmers enter the beef industry, the quantity supplied at any given price will increase. For example, if each farm provides 60,000 pounds of beef per year at a price of $7.10 per pound, then 100,000 farmers would provide 600 million pounds, but 130,000 farmers would provide 780,000 million. Thus, when more farms are in the industry, the quantity of beef supplied will be greater at any given price—and hence the supply curve will move farther to the right.

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S0 S1

Price per Pound

Figure 6(a) illustrates the effect of an expansion of the industry from 100,000 farms to 130,000 farms—a rightward shift of the supply curve from S0 S0 to S 1 S 1 . Figure 6(b) illustrates the opposite case: a contraction of the industry from 100,000 farms to 62,500 farms. The supply curve shifts inward to the left, from S0S 0 to S2 S2 . Even if no farmers enter or leave the industry, results like those depicted in Figure 6 can be produced by expansion or contraction of the existing farms.

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Supply and Demand: An Initial Look

Chapter 4

c

$7.30

f 7.10

S0 S1 Quantity Supplied in Millions of Pounds per Year

Technological Progress Another influence that shifts supply curves is technological

FI GURE 5

change. Suppose an enterprising farmer invents a new growth hormone that increases the body mass of cattle. Thereafter, at any given price, farms will be able to produce more beef; that is, the supply curve will shift outward to the right, as in Figure 6(a). This example, again, illustrates a general influence that applies to most industries:

Movements along versus Shifts of a Supply Curve

Technological progress that reduces costs will shift the supply curve outward to the right.

Automakers, for example, have been able to reduce production costs since industrial technology invented robots that can be programmed to work on several different car models. This technological advance has shifted the supply curve outward.

Prices of Inputs Changes in input prices also shift supply curves. Suppose a drought raises the price of animal feed. Farmers will have to pay more to keep their cows alive and healthy and consequently will no longer be able to provide the same quantity of beef at each possible price. This example illustrates that Increases in the prices of inputs that suppliers must buy will shift the supply curve inward to the left.

FIGU R E 6 Shifts of the Supply Curve

S2

D S0

S0

S0

V Price

Price

S1

U

E

S2 S1

D

S0 Quantity (a)

Quantity (b)

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Prices of Related Outputs Ranchers sell hides as well as meat. If leather prices rise sharply, ranchers may decide not to fatten their cattle as much as they used to, before bringing them to market, thereby reducing the quantity of beef supplied. On a supplydemand diagram, the supply curve would then shift inward, as in Figure 6(b). Similar phenomena occur in other industries, and sometimes the effect goes the other way. For example, suppose that the price of beef goes up, which increases the quantity of meat supplied. That, in turn, will raise the number of cowhides supplied even if the price of leather does not change. Thus, a rise in the price of beef will lead to a rightward shift in the supply curve of leather. In general: A change in the price of one good produced by a multiproduct industry may be expected to shift the supply curves of other goods produced by that industry.

SUPPLY AND DEMAND EQUILIBRIUM

A supply-demand diagram graphs the supply and demand curves together. It also determines the equilibrium price and quantity.

To analyze how the free market determines price, we must compare the desires of consumers (demand) with the desires of producers (supply) to see whether the two plans are consistent. Table 3 and Figure 7 help us do this. Table 3 brings together the demand schedule from Table 1 and the supply schedule from Table 2. Similarly, Figure 7 puts the demand curve from Figure 1 and the supply curve from Figure 4 on a single graph. Such graphs are called supply-demand diagrams, and you will encounter many of them in this book. Notice that, for reasons already discussed, the demand curve has a negative slope and the supply curve has a positive slope. That is generally true of supply-demand diagrams. In a free market, price and quantity are determined by the intersection of the supply and demand curves. At only one point in Figure 7, point E, do the supply curve and the demand curve intersect. At the price corresponding to point E, which is $7.20 per pound, the quantity supplied and the quantity demanded are both 60 million pounds per year. This means that at a price of $7.20 per pound, consumers are willing to buy exactly what producers are willing to sell. At a lower price, such as $7.00 per pound, only 40 million pounds of beef will be supplied (point g), whereas 70 million pounds will be demanded (point G).

F I GURE 7

TABLE 3

Supply-Demand Equilibrium

Determination of the Equilibrium Price and Quantity of Beef D

a

A

$7.50

Price per Pound

7.40 7.30 E 7.20 7.10 g

G

7.00 6.90 0

S

S

Price per Pound

Quantity Demanded

Quantity Supplied

Surplus or Shortage

Price Direction

$7.50 7.40 7.30 7.20 7.10 7.00 6.90

45 50 55 60 65 70 75

90 80 70 60 50 40 30

Surplus Surplus Surplus Neither Shortage Shortage Shortage

Fall Fall Fall Unchanged Rise Rise Rise

D 30

40

50

60

70

80

90

Quantity in Millions of Pounds per Year

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Thus, quantity demanded will exceed quantity supplied. There will be a shortage equal to 70 minus 40, or 30 million pounds. Price will thus be driven up by unsatisfied demand. Alternatively, at a higher price, such as $7.50 per pound, quantity supplied will be 90 million pounds (point a) and quantity demanded will be only 45 million (point A). Quantity supplied will exceed quantity demanded—creating a surplus equal to 90 minus 45, or 45 million pounds. The unsold output can then be expected to push the price down. Because $7.20 is the only price in this graph at which quantity supplied and quantity demanded are equal, we say that $7.20 per pound is the equilibrium price (or the “market clearing” price) in this market. Similarly, 60 million pounds per year is the equilibrium quantity of beef. The term equilibrium merits a little explanation, because it arises so frequently in economic analysis. An equilibrium is a situation in which there are no inherent forces that produce change. Think, for example, of a pendulum resting at its center point. If no outside force (such as a person’s hand) comes to push it, the pendulum will remain exactly where it is; it is therefore in equilibrium. If you give the pendulum a shove, however, its equilibrium will be disturbed and it will start to move. When it reaches the top of its arc, the pendulum will, for an instant, be at rest again. This point is not an equilibrium position, for the force of gravity will pull the pendulum downward. Thereafter, gravity and friction will govern its motion from side to side. Eventually, the pendulum will return to its original position. The fact that the pendulum tends to return to its original position is described by saying that this position is a stable equilibrium. That position is also the only equilibrium position of the pendulum. At any other point, inherent forces will cause the pendulum to move. The concept of equilibrium in economics is similar and can be illustrated by our supply-and-demand example. Why is no price other than $7.20 an equilibrium price in Table 3 or Figure 7? What forces will change any other price? Consider first a low price such as $7.00, at which quantity demanded (70 million pounds) exceeds quantity supplied (40 million pounds). If the price were this low, many frustrated customers would be unable to purchase the quantities they desired. In their scramble for the available supply of beef, some would offer to pay more. As customers sought to outbid one another, the market price would be forced up. Thus, a price below the equilibrium price cannot persist in a free market because a shortage sets in motion powerful economic forces that push the price upward. Similar forces operate in the opposite direction if the market price exceeds the equilibrium price. If, for example, the price should somehow reach $7.50, Table 3 tells us that quantity supplied (90 million pounds) would far exceed the quantity demanded (45 million pounds). Producers would be unable to sell their desired quantities of beef at the prevailing price, and some would undercut their competitors by reducing price. Such competitive price cutting would continue as long as the surplus remained—that is, as long as quantity supplied exceeded quantity demanded. Thus, a price above the equilibrium price cannot persist indefinitely. We are left with a clear conclusion. The price of $7.20 per pound and the quantity of 60 million pounds per year constitute the only price-quantity combination that does not sow the seeds of its own destruction. It is thus the only equilibrium for this market. Any lower price must rise, and any higher price must fall. It is as if natural economic forces place a magnet at point E that attracts the market, just as gravity attracts a pendulum. The pendulum analogy is worth pursuing further. Most pendulums are more frequently in motion than at rest. However, unless they are repeatedly buffeted by outside forces (which, of course, is exactly what happens to economic equilibria in reality), pendulums gradually return to their resting points. The same is true of price and quantity in a free market. They are moved about by shifts in the supply and demand curves that we have already described. As a consequence, markets are not always in equilibrium. But, if nothing interferes with them, experience shows that they normally move toward equilibrium.

A shortage is an excess of quantity demanded over quantity supplied. When there is a shortage, buyers cannot purchase the quantities they desire at the current price. A surplus is an excess of quantity supplied over quantity demanded. When there is a surplus, sellers cannot sell the quantities they desire to supply at the current price. An equilibrium is a situation in which there are no inherent forces that produce change. Changes away from an equilibrium position will occur only as a result of “outside events” that disturb the status quo.

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The law of supply and demand states that in a free market the forces of supply and demand generally push the price toward the level at which quantity supplied and quantity demanded are equal.

The Law of Supply and Demand In a free market, the forces of supply and demand generally push the price toward its equilibrium level, the price at which quantity supplied and quantity demanded are equal. Like most economic “laws,” some markets will occasionally disobey the law of supply and demand. Markets sometimes display shortages or surpluses for long periods of time. Prices sometimes fail to move toward equilibrium. But the “law” is a fair generalization that is right far more often than it is wrong.

EFFECTS OF DEMAND SHIFTS ON SUPPLY-DEMAND EQUILIBRIUM Figure 3 showed how developments other than changes in price—such as increases in consumer income—can shift the demand curve. We saw that a rise in income, for example, will shift the demand curve to the right, meaning that at any given price, consumers—with their increased purchasing power—will buy more of the good than before. This, in turn, will move the equilibrium point, changing both market price and quantity sold. This market adjustment is shown in Figure 8(a). It adds a supply curve to Figure 3(a) so that we can see what happens to the supply-demand equilibrium. In the example in the graph, the quantity demanded at the old equilibrium price of $7.20 increases from 60 million pounds per year (point E on the demand curve D0D0) to 75 million pounds per year (point R on the demand curve D1D1). We know that $7.20 is no longer the equilibrium price, because at this price quantity demanded (75 million pounds) exceeds quantity supplied (60 million pounds). To restore equilibrium, the price must rise. The new equilibrium occurs at point T, the intersection point of the supply curve and the shifted demand curve, where the price is $7.30 per pound and both quantities demanded and supplied are 70 million pounds per year. This example illustrates a general result, which is true when the supply curve slopes upward: Any influence that makes the demand curve shift outward to the right, and does not affect an upward-sloped supply curve, will raise the equilibrium price and the equilibrium quantity.5

F I GURE 8 The Effects of Shifts of the Demand Curve

D1 S T $7.30 E 7.20

D0 Price per Pound

Price per Pound

D0

R

S

D2

E $7.20

L

M

7.10

D1 D0

S

60 7075 Quantity (a)

D0 S

D2 45 50 60 Quantity (b)

NOTE: Quantity is in millions of pounds per year.

5 For example, when incomes rise rapidly, in many developing countries the demand curves for a variety of consumer goods shift rapidly outward to the right. In Japan, for example, the demand for used Levi’s jeans and Nike running shoes from the United States skyrocketed in the early 1990s as status-conscious Japanese consumers searched for outlets for their then-rising incomes.

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The Ups and Downs of Milk Consumption The following excerpt from a U.S. Department of Agriculture publication discusses some of the things that have affected the consumption of milk in the last century.

SOURCE: Judy Putnam and Jane Allshouse, “Trends in U.S. Per Capita Consumption of Dairy Products, 1909 to 2001,” Amber Waves: The Economics of Food, Farming, Natural Resources and Rural America, June 2003, U.S. Department of Agriculture, available at http://www.usda.gov.

Americans are switching to lower fat milks 40 Gallons per person

In 1909, Americans consumed a total of 34 gallons of fluid milk per person—27 gallons of whole milk and 7 gallons of milks lower in fat than whole milk, mostly buttermilk. . . . Fluid milk consumption shot up from 34 gallons per person in 1941 to a peak of 45 gallons per person in 1945. War production lifted Americans’ incomes but curbed civilian production and the goods consumers could buy. Many food items were rationed, including meats, butter and sugar. Milk was not rationed, and consumption soared. Since 1945, however, milk consumption has fallen steadily, reaching a record low of just under 23 gallons per person in 2001 (the latest year for which data are available). Steep declines in consumption of whole milk and buttermilk far outpaced an increase in other lower fat milks. By 2001, Americans were consuming less than 8 gallons per person of whole milk, compared with nearly 41 gallons in 1945 and 25 gallons in 1970. In contrast, per capita consumption of total lower fat milks was 15 gallons in 2001, up from 4 gallons in 1945 and 6 gallons

in 1970. These changes are consistent with increased public concern about cholesterol, saturated fat, and calories. However, decline in per capita consumption of fluid milk also may be attributed to competition from other beverages, especially carbonated soft drinks and bottled water, a smaller percentage of children and adolescents in the U.S., and a more ethnically diverse population whose diet does not normally include milk.

Whole milk

30 Other lower fat milks 20 10 0 1909

Buttermilk 1916

1923

1930

1937

1944

1951

1958

1965

1972

1979

1986

1993

2000

Lower fat milks include: buttermilk (1.5 percent fat), plain and flavored reduced fat milk (2 percent fat), low-fat milk (1 percent fat), nonfat milk, and yogurt made from these milks (except frozen yogurt).

Everything works in reverse if consumer incomes fall. Figure 8(b) depicts a leftward (inward) shift of the demand curve that results from a decline in consumer incomes. For example, the quantity demanded at the previous equilibrium price ($7.20) falls from 60 million pounds (point E) to 45 million pounds (point L on the demand curve D2D2). The initial price is now too high and must fall. The new equilibrium will eventually be established at point M, where the price is $7.10 and both quantity demanded and quantity supplied are 50 million pounds. In general: Any influence that shifts the demand curve inward to the left, and that does not affect the supply curve, will lower both the equilibrium price and the equilibrium quantity.

SUPPLY SHIFTS AND SUPPLY-DEMAND EQUILIBRIUM A story precisely analogous to that of the effects of a demand shift on equilibrium price and quantity applies to supply shifts. Figure 6 described the effects on the supply curve of beef if the number of farms increases. Figure 9(a) now adds a demand curve to the supply curves of Figure 6 so that we can see the supply-demand equilibrium. Notice that at the initial price of $7.20, the quantity supplied after the shift is 780 million pounds (point I on the supply curve S1S1), which is 30 percent more than the original quantity demanded of 600 million pounds (point E on the supply curve S0S0). We can see from the graph that the price of $7.20 is too high to be the equilibrium price; the price must fall. The new equilibrium point is J, where the price is $7.10 per pound and the quantity is 650 million pounds per year. In general: Any change that shifts the supply curve outward to the right, and does not affect the demand curve, will lower the equilibrium price and raise the equilibrium quantity.

This must always be true if the industry’s demand curve has a negative slope, because the greater quantity supplied can be sold only if the price is decreased so as to induce customers to buy more.6 The cellular phone industry is a case in point. As more providers Graphically, whenever a positively sloped curve shifts to the right, its intersection point with a negatively sloping curve must always move lower. Just try drawing it yourself.

6

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F I GURE 9 Effects of Shifts of the Supply Curve S2 D S0

E

I

$7.20 J 7.10

S1

V Price per Pound

Price per Pound

D $7.40

S0 E

U 7.20

S2

S0

S0

S1

D

D 60 Quantity (a)

65

78

37.5

50 60 Quantity (b)

have entered the industry, the cost of cellular service has plummeted. Some cellular carriers have even given away telephones as sign-up bonuses. Figure 9(b) illustrates the opposite case: a contraction of the industry. The supply curve shifts inward to the left and equilibrium moves from point E to point V, where the price is $7.40 and quantity is 500 million pounds per year. In general: Any influence that shifts the supply curve to the left, and does not affect the demand curve, will raise the equilibrium price and reduce the equilibrium quantity.

Many outside forces can disturb equilibrium in a market by shifting the demand curve or the supply curve, either temporarily or permanently. In 1998, for example, gasoline prices dropped because a recession in Asia shifted the demand curve downward, as did a reduction in use of petroleum that resulted from a mild winter. In the summer of 1998, severely hot weather and lack of rain damaged the cotton crop in the United States, shifting the supply curve downward. Such outside influences change the equilibrium price and quantity. If you look again at Figures 8 and 9, you can see clearly that any event that causes either the demand curve or the supply curve to shift will also change the equilibrium price and quantity.

PUZZLE RESOLVED:

THOSE LEAPING OIL PRICES

The disturbing increases in the price of gasoline, and of the oil from which it is made, is attributable to large shifts in both demand and supply conditions. Americans are, for example, driving more and are buying gas-guzzling vehicles, and the resulting upward shift in the demand curve raises price. Instability in the Middle East and Russia has undermined supply, and that also raised prices. We have seen the results at the gas pumps. The following newspaper story describes a sensational sort of change in supply conditions: Aug. 10 (Bloomberg)—BP Plc and its partners in the Prudhoe Bay oil field in Alaska will spend about $170 million inspecting and repairing corroded pipelines that shut most of the production from the largest U.S. oil field. Including costs to clean up and repair a line that leaked in March, the “rough estimate” rises to about $200 million, said Kemp Copeland, field manager for BP’s Prudhoe Bay operations. The figures include the cost of replacing 16 miles of feeder pipeline in the field. The worst cost to BP will probably be the hit to its reputation, said Mark Gilman, an analyst at The Benchmark Company LLC in New York, who rates the shares “sell.” Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

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Chapter 4

“At some point this is going to prove very costly, as you’re going to be competing with folks whose reputation has not been subject to the same degree of punishment,” Gilman, who owns a “small” number of BP shares, said today in a phone interview. The Prudhoe Bay shutdown is the latest blow for Chief Executive Officer John Browne, who faces a grand jury probe for an earlier Alaska spill, charges of market manipulation in the U.S. propane industry and fines from a Texas refinery blast that killed 15 workers. BP, which gets 40 percent of its sales from the U.S., last month said it will boost spending there to improve safety and maintenance. London-based BP Plc said today it will know by the start of next week whether it can keep operating the western half of the field, which is currently producing as much as 137,000 barrels of oil a day. The entire field pumps 400,000 barrels a day, or 8 percent of U.S. output, when fully operational.

LOOKING FOR STEEL SUPPLIES BP is asking suppliers U.S. Steel Corp. and Nippon Steel Corp. for faster delivery to a total of 51,000 feet of pipe it has already ordered for the repairs, BP Alaska President Steve Marshall said in conference call on Aug. 8. The pipe is scheduled to be delivered in October the earliest. A supplier for another 30,000 feet of 24-inch pipe and 52,000 feet of 18-inch pipe is still needed, said Marshall. BP, Houston-based ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corp. of Irving, Texas, are joint owners in the Prudhoe Bay field. ConocoPhillips, the third-largest U.S. oil company, earlier today declared force majeure on oil deliveries from Prudhoe Bay. Force majeure allows companies to avoid penalties for failing to fulfill contracts because of unforeseen events. ConocoPhillips sells its Alaskan crude oil to refineries and brokers, according to spokesman Bill Tanner. SOURCE: Ian McKinnon and Sonja Franklin, “BP Says Prudhoe Bay Repair Costs May Be $200 Million,” with reporting by Jim Kennett in Houston. Editor: Jordan (rsd).

Application: Who Really Pays That Tax? Supply-and-demand analysis offers insights that may not be readily apparent. Here is an example. Suppose your state legislature raises the gasoline tax by 10 cents per gallon. Service station operators will then have to collect 10 additional FIGURE 10 cents in taxes on every gallon they pump. They will conWho Pays for a New Tax on Products?

D

Price per Gallon

sider this higher tax as an addition to their costs and will pass it on to you and other consumers by raising the price of gas by 10 cents per gallon. Right? No, wrong—or rather, partly wrong. The gas station owners would certainly like to pass on the entire tax to buyers, but the market mechanism will allow them to shift only part of it—perhaps 6 cents per gallon. They will then be stuck with the remainder— 4 cents in our example. Figure 10, which is just another supply-demand graph, shows why. The demand curve is the blue curve DD. The supply curve before the tax is the black curve S0S0. Before the new tax, the equilibrium point is E0 and the price is $2.54. We can interpret the supply curve as telling us at what price sellers are willing to provide any given quantity. For example, they are willing to supply quantity Q1 5 50 million gallons per year if the price is $2.54 per gallon.

S1 M

$2.64 E1

S0

2.60

2.54 S1

E0

D

S0 Q2

Q1

30 50 Millions of Gallons per Year

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So what happens as a result of the new tax? Because they must now turn 10 cents per gallon over to the government, gas station owners will be willing to supply any given quantity only if they get 10 cents more per gallon than before. Therefore, to get them to supply quantity Q1 5 50 million gallons, a price of $2.54 per gallon will no longer suffice. Only a price of $2.64 per gallon will now induce them to supply 50 million gallons. Thus, at quantity Q1 5 50, the point on the supply curve will move up by 10 cents, from point E0 to point M. Because firms will insist on the same 10-cent price increase for any other quantity they supply, the entire supply curve will shift up by the 10-cent tax—from the black curve S0S0 to the new brick-colored supply curve S1S1. And, as a result, the supply-demand equilibrium point will move from E0 to E1 and the price will increase from $2.54 to $2.60. The supply curve shift may give the impression that gas station owners have succeeded in passing the entire 10-cent increase on to consumers—the distance from E0 to M—but look again. The equilibrium price has only gone up from $2.54 to $2.60. That is, the price has risen by only 6 cents, not by the full 10-cent amount of the tax. The gas station will have to absorb the remaining 4 cents of the tax. Now this really looks as though we have pulled a fast one on you—a magician’s sleight of hand. After all, the supply curve has shifted upward by the full amount of the tax, and yet the resulting price increase has covered only part of the tax rise. However, a second look reveals that, like most apparent acts of magic, this one has a simple explanation. The explanation arises from the demand side of the supply-demand mechanism. The negative slope of the demand curve means that when prices rise, at least some consumers will reduce the quantity of gasoline they demand. That will force sellers to give up part of the price increase. In other words, firms must absorb the part of the tax—4 cents—that consumers are unwilling to pay. But note that the equilibrium quantity Q1 has fallen from 50 million gallons to Q2 5 30 million gallons—so both consumers and suppliers lose out in some sense. This example is not an oddball case. Indeed, the result is almost always true. The cost of any increase in a tax on any commodity will usually be paid partly by the consumer and partly by the seller. This is so no matter whether the legislature says that it is imposing the tax on the sellers or on the buyers. Whichever way it is phrased, the economics are the same: The supply-demand mechanism ensures that the tax will be shared by both of the parties.

BATTLING THE INVISIBLE HAND: THE MARKET FIGHTS BACK

IDEAS FOR BEYOND THE FINAL EXAM

As we noted in our Ideas for Beyond the Final Exam in Chapter 1, lawmakers and rulers have often been dissatisfied with the outcomes of free markets. From Rome to Reno, and from biblical times to the space age, they have battled the invisible hand. Sometimes, rather than trying to adjust the workings of the market, governments have tried to raise or lower the prices of specific commodities by decree. In many such cases, the authorities felt that market prices were, in some sense, immorally low or immorally high. Penalties were therefore imposed on anyone offering the commodities in question at prices above or below those established by the authorities. Such legally imposed constraints on prices are called “price ceilings” and “price floors.” To see their result, we will focus on the use of price ceilings.

Restraining the Market Mechanism: Price Ceilings A price ceiling is a maximum that the price charged for a commodity cannot legally exceed.

The market has proven itself a formidable foe that strongly resists attempts to get around its decisions. In case after case where legal price ceilings are imposed, virtually the same series of consequences ensues: 1. A persistent shortage develops because quantity demanded exceeds quantity supplied. Queuing (people waiting in lines), direct rationing (with everyone getting a fixed allotment), or any of a variety of other devices, usually inefficient and unpleasant, must substitute for the distribution process provided by the price mechanism. Example: Rampant shortages in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union helped precipitate the revolts that ended communism.

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Chapter 4

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71

P OLICY D E B AT E

Economic Aspects of the War on Drugs

SOURCE: © AP Images/Angela Gaul

For years now, the U.S. government has engaged in a highly publicized “war on drugs.” Billions of dollars have been spent on trying to stop illegal drugs at the country’s borders. In some sense, interdiction has succeeded: Federal agents have seized literally tons of cocaine and other drugs. Yet these efforts have made barely a dent in the flow of drugs to America’s city streets. Simple economic reasoning explains why. When drug interdiction works, it shifts the supply curve of drugs to the left, thereby driving up street prices. But that, in turn, raises the rewards for potential smugglers and attracts more criminals into the “industry,” which shifts the supply curve back to the right. The net result is that increased shipments of drugs to U.S. shores replace much of what the authorities confiscate. This is why many economists believe that any successful antidrug program must concentrate on reducing demand, which would lower the street price of drugs, not on reducing supply, which can only raise it. Some people suggest that the government should go even further and legalize many drugs. Although this idea remains a highly controversial position that few are ready to endorse, the reasoning behind it is straightforward. A stunningly high fraction of all the violent crimes committed in America—especially robberies and murders—are drug-related. One

major reason is that street prices of drugs are so high that addicts must steal to get the money, and drug traffickers are all too willing to kill to protect their highly profitable “businesses.” How would things differ if drugs were legal? Because South American farmers earn pennies for drugs that sell for hundreds of dollars on the streets of Los Angeles and New York, we may safely assume that legalized drugs would be vastly cheaper. In fact, according to one estimate, a dose of cocaine would cost less than 50 cents. That, proponents point out, would reduce drug-related crimes dramatically. When, for example, was the last time you heard of a gang killing connected with the distribution of cigarettes or alcoholic beverages? The argument against legalization of drugs is largely moral: Should the state sanction potentially lethal substances? But there is an economic aspect to this position as well: The vastly lower street prices of drugs that would surely follow legalization would increase drug use. Thus, although legalization would almost certainly reduce crime, it may also produce more addicts. The key question here is, How many more addicts? (No one has a good answer.) If you think the increase in quantity demanded would be large, you are unlikely to find legalization an attractive option.

2. An illegal, or “black” market often arises to supply the commodity. Usually some individuals are willing to take the risks involved in meeting unsatisfied demands illegally. Example: Although most states ban the practice, ticket “scalping” (the sale of tickets at higher than regular prices) occurs at most popular sporting events and rock concerts. 3. The prices charged on illegal markets are almost certainly higher than those that would prevail in free markets. After all, lawbreakers expect some compensation for the risk of being caught and punished. Example: Illegal drugs are normally quite expensive. (See the accompanying Policy Debate box “Economic Aspects of the War on Drugs.”) 4. A substantial portion of the price falls into the hands of the illicit supplier instead of going to those who produce the good or perform the service. Example: A constant complaint during the public hearings that marked the history of theaterticket price controls in New York City was that the “ice” (the illegal excess charge) fell into the hands of ticket scalpers rather than going to those who invested in, produced, or acted in the play. 5. Investment in the industry generally dries up. Because price ceilings reduce the monetary returns that investors can legally earn, less money will be invested in industries that are subject to price controls. Even fear of impending price controls can have this effect. Example: Price controls on farm products in Zambia have prompted peasant farmers and large agricultural conglomerates alike to cut back production rather than grow crops at a loss. The result has been thousands of lost jobs and widespread food shortages. Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

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Case Study: Rent Controls in New York City

SOURCE: © The New Yorker Collection, 1994 Richard Cline from cartoonbank.com. All Rights Reserved.

Rent per Month

These points and others are best illustrated by considering a concrete example involving price ceilings. New York is the only major city in the United States that has continuously legislated rent controls in much of its rental housing, since World War II. Rent controls, of course, are intended to protect the consumer from high rents. But most FIGURE 11 economists believe that rent control does not help the cities or their residents and that, Supply-Demand in the long run, it leaves almost everyone worse off. Elementary supply-demand analyDiagram for Rental sis shows us why. Housing Figure 11 is a supply-demand diagram for rental units in New York. Curve DD is the demand curve and S curve SS is the supply curve. Without controls, equiD librium would be at point E, where rents average $2,000 per month and 3 million housing units are occupied. If rent controls are effective, the ceiling price Market E rent must be below the equilibrium price of $2,000. But $2,000 with a low rent ceiling, such as $1,200, the quantity of housing demanded will be 3.5 million units (point B), Rent C ceiling whereas the quantity supplied will be only 2.5 million B 1,200 units (point C). S D The diagram shows a shortage of 1 million apart0 2.5 3 3.5 ments. This theoretical concept of a “shortage” maniMillions of Dwellings fests itself in New York City as an abnormally low Rented per Month vacancy rate, that is, a low share of unoccupied apartments available for rental—typically about half the national urban average. Naturally, rent controls have spawned a lively black market in New York. The black market raises the effective price of rent-controlled apartments in many ways, including bribes, so-called key money paid to move up on a waiting list, or the requirement that prospective tenants purchase worthless furniture at inflated prices. According to Figure 11, rent controls reduce the quantity supplied from 3 million to 2.5 million apartments. How does this reduction show up in New York? First, some property owners, discouraged by the low rents, have converted apartment buildings into office space or other uses. Second, some apartments have been inadequately maintained. After all, rent controls create a shortage, which makes even dilapidated apartments easy to rent. Third, some landlords have actually abandoned their buildings rather than pay rising tax and fuel bills. These abandoned buildings rapidly become eyesores and eventually pose threats to public health and safety. An important implication of these last observations is that rent controls—and price controls more generally—harm consumers in ways that offset part or all of the benefits to those who are fortunate enough to find and acquire at lower prices the product that the reduced prices has made scarce. Tenants must undergo long waits and undertake time-consuming searches to find an apartment. The apartment they obtain is likely to be poorly maintained or even decrepit, and normal landlord services are apt to disappear. Thus, even for the lucky beneficiaries, rent control is always far less of a bargain than the reduced monthly payments make them appear to be. The same problems generally apply with other forms of price control as well. With all of these problems, why does rent control persist in New York City? And why do other cities sometimes move in the same direction? Part of the explanation is that most people simply do not understand the problems that rent controls create. Another part is “If you leave me, you know, you’ll never see that landlords are unpopular politically. But a third, and very this kind of rent again.”

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Chapter 4

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Supply and Demand: An Initial Look

important, part of the explanation is that not everyone is hurt by rent controls—and those who benefit from controls fight hard to preserve them. In New York, for example, many tenants pay rents that are only a fraction of what their apartments would fetch on the open market. They are, naturally enough, quite happy with this situation. This last point illustrates another very general phenomenon: Virtually every price ceiling or floor creates a class of people that benefits from the regulations. These people use their political influence to protect their gains by preserving the status quo, which is one reason why it is so difficult to eliminate price ceilings or floors.

Restraining the Market Mechanism: Price Floors Interferences with the market mechanism are not always designed to keep prices low. Agricultural price supports and minimum wage laws are two notable examples in which the law keeps prices above free-market levels. Such price floors are typically accompanied by a standard series of symptoms: 1. A surplus develops as sellers cannot find enough buyers. Example: Surpluses of various agricultural products have been a persistent—and costly—problem for the U.S. government. The problem is even worse in the European Union (EU), where the common agricultural policy holds prices even higher. One source estimates that this policy accounts for half of all EU spending.7 2. Where goods, rather than services, are involved, the surplus creates a problem of disposal. Something must be done about the excess of quantity supplied over quantity demanded. Example: The U.S. government has often been forced to purchase, store, and then dispose of large amounts of surplus agricultural commodities. 3. To get around the regulations, sellers may offer discounts in disguised—and often unwanted—forms. Example: Back when airline fares were regulated by the government, airlines offered more and better food and more stylishly uniformed flight attendants instead of lowering fares. Today, the food is worse, but tickets cost much less. 4. Regulations that keep prices artificially high encourage overinvestment in the industry. Even inefficient businesses whose high operating costs would doom them in an unrestricted market can survive beneath the shelter of a generous price floor. Example: This is why the airline and trucking industries both went through painful “shakeouts” of the weaker companies in the 1980s, after they were deregulated and allowed to charge market-determined prices.

A price floor is a legal minimum below which the price charged for a commodity is not permitted to fall.

Once again, a specific example is useful for understanding how price floors work.

Case Study: Farm Price Supports and the Case of Sugar Prices America’s extensive program of farm price supports began in 1933 as a “temporary method of dealing with an emergency”—in the years of the Great Depression, farmers were going broke in droves. These price supports are still with us today, even though farmers account for less than 2 percent of the U.S. workforce.8 One of the consequences of these price supports has been the creation of unsellable surpluses—more output of crops such as grains than consumers were willing to buy at the inflated prices yielded by the supports. Warehouses were filled to overflowing. New storage facilities had to be built, and the government was forced to set up programs in

The Economist, February 20, 1999. Under major legislation passed in 1996, many agricultural price supports were supposed to be phased out over a seven-year period. In reality, many support programs, especially that for sugar, have changed little. 7 8

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which grain from the unmanageable surpluses was shipped to poor foreign countries to combat malnutrition and starvation in those nations. Realistically, if price supports are to be effective in keeping prices above the equilibrium level, then someone must be prepared to purchase the surpluses that invariably result. Otherwise, those surpluses will somehow find their way into the market and drive down prices, undermining the price support program. In the United States (and elsewhere), the buyer of the surpluses has usually turned out to be the government, which makes its purchases at the expense of taxpayers who are forced to pay twice—once through taxes to finance the government purchases and a second time in the form of higher prices for the farm products bought by the American public. One of the more controversial farm price supports involves the U.S. sugar industry. Sugar producers receive low-interest loans from the federal government and a guarantee that the price of sugar will not fall below a certain level. In a market economy such as that found in the United States, Congress cannot simply set prices by decree; rather, it must take some action to enforce the price floor. In the case of sugar, that “something” is limiting both domestic production and foreign imports, thereby shifting the supply curve inward to the left. Figure 12 shows the mechanics involved in this price floor. Government policies shift the supply curve inward from S0S0 to S1S1 and drive the U.S. price up from 25¢ to 50¢ per pound. The more the supply curve shifts inward, the higher the price. FIGURE 12 S1

Supporting the Price of Sugar

D

S0

50¢ Price

74

25¢

S1 D

S0 Quantity

The sugar industry obviously benefits from the price-control program, but consumers pay for it in the form of higher prices for sugar and sugar-filled products such as soft drinks, candy bars, and cookies. Although estimates vary, the federal sugar price support program appears to cost consumers approximately $1.5 billion per year. If all of this sounds a bit abstract to you, take a look at the ingredients in a U.S.-made soft drink. Instead of sugar, you will likely find “high-fructose corn syrup” listed as a sweetener. Foreign producers generally use sugar, but sugar is simply too expensive to be used for this purpose in the United States.

A Can of Worms Our two case studies—rent controls and sugar price supports—illustrate some of the major side effects of price floors and ceilings but barely hint at others. Difficulties arise that

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Chapter 4

Supply and Demand: An Initial Look

we have not even mentioned, for the market mechanism is a tough bird that imposes suitable retribution on those who seek to evade it by government decree. Here is a partial list of other problems that may arise when prices are controlled.

Favoritism and Corruption When price ceilings or floors create shortages or surpluses, someone must decide who gets to buy or sell the limited quantity that is available. This decision-making process can lead to discrimination along racial or religious lines, political favoritism, or corruption in government. For example, many prices were held at artificially low levels in the former Soviet Union, making queuing for certain goods quite common. Even so, Communist Party officials and other favored groups were somehow able to purchase the scarce commodities that others could not get. Unenforceability Attempts to limit prices are almost certain to fail in industries with numerous suppliers, simply because the regulating agency must monitor the behavior of so many sellers. People will usually find ways to evade or violate the law, and something like the free-market price will generally reappear. However, there is an important difference: Because the evasion process, whatever its form, will have some operating costs, those costs must be borne by someone. Normally, that someone is the consumer, who must pay higher prices to the suppliers for taking the risk of breaking the law. Auxiliary Restrictions Fears that a system of price controls will break down invariably lead to regulations designed to shore up the shaky edifice. Consumers may be told when and from whom they are permitted to buy. The powers of the police and the courts may be used to prevent the entry of new suppliers. Occasionally, an intricate system of market subdivision is imposed, giving each class of firms a protected sphere in which others are not permitted to operate. For example, in New York City, there are laws banning conversion of rent-controlled apartments to condominiums.

Limitation of Volume of Transactions To the extent that controls succeed in affecting prices, they can be expected to reduce the volume of transactions. Curiously, this is true regardless of whether the regulated price is above or below the free-market equilibrium price. If it is set above the equilibrium price, the quantity demanded will be below the equilibrium quantity. On the other hand, if the imposed price is set below the freemarket level, the quantity supplied will be reduced. Because sales volume cannot exceed either the quantity supplied or the quantity demanded, a reduction in the volume of transactions is the result.9 Misallocation of Resources Departures from free-market prices are likely to result in misuse of the economy’s resources because the connection between production costs and prices is broken. For example, Russian farmers used to feed their farm animals bread instead of unprocessed grains because price ceilings kept the price of bread ludicrously low. In addition, just as more complex locks lead to more sophisticated burglary tools, more complex regulations lead to the use of yet more resources for their avoidance. Economists put it this way: Free markets are capable of dealing efficiently with the three basic coordination tasks outlined in Chapter 3: deciding what to produce, how to produce it, and to whom the goods should be distributed. Price controls throw a monkey wrench into the market mechanism. Although the market is surely not flawless, and government interferences often have praiseworthy goals, good intentions are not enough. Any government that sets out to repair what it sees as a defect in the market mechanism runs the risk of causing even more serious damage elsewhere. As a prominent economist 9

See Discussion Question 4 at the end of this chapter.

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once quipped, societies that are too willing to interfere with the operation of free markets soon find that the invisible hand is nowhere to be seen.

A SIMPLE BUT POWERFUL LESSON Astonishing as it may seem, many people in authority do not understand the law of supply and demand, or they act as if it does not exist. For example, a few years ago The New York Times carried a dramatic front-page picture of the president of Kenya setting fire to a large pile of elephant tusks that had been confiscated from poachers. The accompanying story explained that the burning was intended as a symbolic act to persuade the world to halt the ivory trade.10 One may certainly doubt whether the burning really touched the hearts of criminal poachers, but one economic effect was clear: By reducing the supply of ivory on the world market, the burning of tusks forced up the price of ivory, which raised the illicit rewards reaped by those who slaughter elephants. That could only encourage more poaching—precisely the opposite of what the Kenyan government sought to accomplish.

| SUMMARY | 1. An attempt to use government regulations to force prices above or below their equilibrium levels is likely to lead to shortages or surpluses, to black markets in which goods are sold at illegal prices, and to a variety of other problems. The market always strikes back at attempts to repeal the law of supply and demand. 2. The quantity of a product that is demanded is not a fixed number. Rather, quantity demanded depends on such influences as the price of the product, consumer incomes, and the prices of other products. 3. The relationship between quantity demanded and price, holding all other things constant, can be displayed graphically on a demand curve. 4. For most products, the higher the price, the lower the quantity demanded. As a result, the demand curve usually has a negative slope. 5. The quantity of a product that is supplied depends on its price and many other influences. A supply curve is a graphical representation of the relationship between quantity supplied and price, holding all other influences constant. 6. For most products, supply curves have positive slopes, meaning that higher prices lead to supply of greater quantities. 7. A change in quantity demanded that is caused by a change in the price of the good is represented by a movement along a fixed demand curve. A change in

10

quantity demanded that is caused by a change in any other determinant of quantity demanded is represented by a shift of the demand curve. 8. This same distinction applies to the supply curve: Changes in price lead to movements along a fixed supply curve; changes in other determinants of quantity supplied lead to shifts of the entire supply curve. 9. A market is said to be in equilibrium when quantity supplied is equal to quantity demanded. The equilibrium price and quantity are shown by the point on the supply-demand graph where the supply and demand curves intersect. The law of supply and demand states that price and quantity tend to gravitate to this point in a free market. 10. Changes in consumer incomes, tastes, technology, prices of competing products, and many other influences lead to shifts in either the demand curve or the supply curve and produce changes in price and quantity that can be determined from supply-demand diagrams. 11. A tax on a good generally leads to a rise in the price at which the taxed product is sold. The rise in price is generally less than the tax, so consumers usually pay less than the entire tax. 12. Consumers generally pay only part of a tax because the resulting rise in price leads them to buy less and the cut in the quantity they demand helps to force price down.

The New York Times, July 19, 1989.

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Chapter 4

| KEY TERMS | demand curve

58

demand schedule equilibrium

price ceiling 58

price floor

65

invisible hand

70

shortage

73

supply curve

quantity demanded

56

quantity supplied

law of supply and demand

66

65

57

61

shift in a demand curve

62

supply schedule 61 supply-demand diagram 59

surplus

64

65

| TEST YOURSELF | 1. What shapes would you expect for demand curves for the following: a. A medicine that means life or death for a patient b. French fries in a food court with kiosks offering many types of food 2. The following are the assumed supply and demand schedules for hamburgers in Collegetown:

Demand Schedule

Price $2.75 2.50 2.25 2.00 1.75 1.50

Quantity Demanded per Year (thousands) 14 18 22 26 30 34

Price $170 210 250 300 330 370

Quantity Demanded per Year (millions)

Quantity Supplied per Year (millions)

43 39 35 31 27 23

27 31 35 39 43 47

Supply Schedule

Price $2.75 2.50 2.25 2.00 1.75 1.50

Quantity Supplied per Year (thousands) 32 30 28 26 24 22

a. Plot the supply and demand curves and indicate the equilibrium price and quantity. b. What effect would a decrease in the price of beef (a hamburger input) have on the equilibrium price and quantity of hamburgers, assuming all other things remained constant? Explain your answer with the help of a diagram. c. What effect would an increase in the price of pizza (a substitute commodity) have on the equilibrium price and quantity of hamburgers, assuming again that all other things remain constant? Use a diagram in your answer.

b. Now suppose that it becomes unfashionable to ride a bicycle, so that the quantity demanded at each price falls by 9 million bikes per year. What is the new equilibrium price and quantity? Show this solution graphically. Explain why the quantity falls by less than 9 million bikes per year. c. Suppose instead that several major bicycle producers go out of business, thereby reducing the quantity supplied by 9 million bikes at every price. Find the new equilibrium price and quantity, and show it graphically. Explain again why quantity falls by less than 9 million. d. What are the equilibrium price and quantity if the shifts described in Test Yourself Questions 3(b) and 3(c) happen at the same time? 4. The following table summarizes information about the market for principles of economics textbooks:

Price

Quantity Demanded per Year

Quantity Supplied per Year

$45 55 65 75 85

4,300 2,300 1,300 800 650

300 700 1,300 2,100 3,100

3. Suppose the supply and demand schedules for bicycles are as they appear in the following table. a. Graph these curves and show the equilibrium price and quantity.

a. What is the market equilibrium price and quantity of textbooks?

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b. To quell outrage over tuition increases, the college places a $55 limit on the price of textbooks. How many textbooks will be sold now?

the government decides to fight cholesterol by levying a tax of 50 cents per pound on sales of beef. Follow these steps to analyze the effects of the tax:

c. While the price limit is still in effect, automated publishing increases the efficiency of textbook production. Show graphically the likely effect of this innovation on the market price and quantity.

a. Construct the new supply schedule (to replace Table 2) that relates quantity supplied to the price that consumers pay.

5. How are the following demand curves likely to shift in response to the indicated changes?

b. Graph the new supply curve constructed in Test Yourself Question 7(a) on the supply-demand diagram depicted in Figure 7.

a. The effect of a drought on the demand curve for umbrellas

c. Does the tax succeed in its goal of reducing the consumption of beef?

b. The effect of higher popcorn prices on the demand curve for movie tickets

d. Is the price rise greater than, equal to, or less than the 50 cent tax?

c. The effect on the demand curve for coffee of a decline in the price of Coca-Cola

e. Who actually pays the tax, consumers or producers? (This may be a good question to discuss in class.)

6. The two accompanying diagrams show supply and demand curves for two substitute commodities: tapes and compact discs (CDs).

8. (More difficult) The demand and supply curves for T-shirts in Touristtown, U.S.A., are given by the following equations: Q 5 24,000 2 500P

D0

S0

S0

D0 Quantity Compact Discs (a)

where P is measured in dollars and Q is the number of T-shirts sold per year. a. Find the equilibrium price and quantity algebraically.

Price

S0

Price

D0

Q 5 6,000 1 1,000P

S0

D0 Quantity Tapes (b)

b. If tourists decide they do not really like T-shirts that much, which of the following might be the new demand curve? Q 5 21,000 2 500P

Q 5 27,000 2 500P

Find the equilibrium price and quantity after the shift of the demand curve. a. On the right-hand diagram, show what happens when rising raw material prices make it costlier to produce tapes. b. On the left-hand diagram, show what happens to the market for CDs. 7. Consider the market for beef discussed in this chapter (Tables 1 through 4 and Figures 1 and 8). Suppose that

c. If, instead, two new stores that sell T-shirts open up in town, which of the following might be the new supply curve? Q 5 4,000 1 1,000P

Q 5 9,000 1 1,000P

Find the equilibrium price and quantity after the shift of the supply curve.

| DISCUSSION QUESTIONS | 1. How often do you rent videos? Would you do so more often if a rental cost half as much? Distinguish between your demand curve for home videos and your “quantity demanded” at the current price. 2. Discuss the likely effects of the following: a. Rent ceilings on the market for apartments b. Floors under wheat prices on the market for wheat Use supply-demand diagrams to show what may happen in each case. 3. U.S. government price supports for milk led to an unceasing surplus of milk. In an effort to reduce the surplus about a decade ago, Congress offered to pay dairy

farmers to slaughter cows. Use two diagrams, one for the milk market and one for the meat market, to illustrate how this policy should have affected the price of meat. (Assume that meat is sold in an unregulated market.) 4. It is claimed in this chapter that either price floors or price ceilings reduce the actual quantity exchanged in a market. Use a diagram or diagrams to test this conclusion, and explain the common sense behind it. 5. The same rightward shift of the demand curve may produce a very small or a very large increase in quantity, depending on the slope of the supply curve. Explain this conclusion with diagrams.

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Chapter 4

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Supply and Demand: An Initial Look

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6. In 1981, when regulations were holding the price of natural gas below its free-market level, then-Congressman Jack Kemp of New York said the following in an interview with The New York Times: “We need to decontrol natural gas, and get production of natural gas up to a higher level so we can bring down the price.”11 Evaluate the congressman’s statement.

working women grew by 11 percent. During this time, average wages for men grew by 20 percent, whereas average wages for women grew by 25 percent. Which of the following two explanations seems more consistent with the data?

7. From 1990 to 1997 in the United States, the number of working men grew by 6.7 percent; the number of

b. Discrimination against women declined, raising the relative (to men) demand for female workers.

a. Women decided to work more, raising their relative supply (relative to men).

The New York Times, December 24, 1981.

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Part

THE Building Blocks of Demand and Supply

T

he next four chapters describe and analyze the basic building blocks with which economists analyze markets and their two essential elements: buyers (consumers) and sellers (producers). As in a piece of machinery, all the parts of a market operate simultaneously together, so there is no logical place to begin the story. Furthermore, the heart of the story is not found in the individual components, but in the way they fit together. The four central microeconomics chapters start off with the separate components but then assemble them into a working model of how firms determine price and output simultaneously. Then Chapter 9 deals with stocks and bonds as tools that help business firms obtain the finances they need to operate and as earnings opportunities for potential investors in firms.

C H A P T E R S 5 | Consumer Choice:

8 | Output, Price, and Profit:

6 | Demand and Elasticity

9 | Investing in Business:

Individual and Market Demand

7 | Production, Inputs, and

The Importance of Marginal Analysis Stocks and Bonds

Cost: Building Blocks for Supply Analysis

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Consumer Choice: Individual and Market Demand Everything is worth what its purchaser will pay for it. P U BL I L I U S SY RU S ( 1ST CENTURY

B . C .)

Y

ou are about to start a new year in college, and your favorite clothing store is having a sale. So you decide to stock up on jeans. How do you decide how many pairs to buy? How is your decision affected by the price of the jeans and the amount of money you earned in your summer job? How can you get the most for your money? Economic analysis provides some rational ways to make these decisions. Do you think about your decision as an economist would, either consciously or unconsciously? Should you? By the end of the chapter, you will be able to analyze such purchase decisions using concepts called utility and marginal analysis. Chapter 4 introduced you to the idea of supply and demand and the use of supply and demand curves to analyze how markets determine prices and quantities of products sold. This chapter will investigate the underpinnings of the demand curve, which, as we have already seen, shows us half of the market picture.

C O N T E N T S PUZZLE: WHY SHOULDN’T WATER BE WORTH MORE THAN DIAMONDS?

CONSUMER CHOICE AS A TRADE-OFF: OPPORTUNITY COST

SCARCITY AND DEMAND

Consumer’s Surplus: The Net Gain from a Purchase

UTILITY: A TOOL TO ANALYZE PURCHASE DECISIONS

PUZZLE: RESOLVING THE DIAMOND–WATER PUZZLE

The Purpose of Utility Analysis: Analyzing How People Behave, Not What They Think Total versus Marginal Utility The “Law” of Diminishing Marginal Utility Using Marginal Utility: The Optimal Purchase Rule From Diminishing Marginal Utility to DownwardSloping Demand Curves

Income and Quantity Demanded

BEHAVIORAL ECONOMICS: ARE ECONOMIC DECISIONS REALLY MADE “RATIONALLY”?

| APPENDIX | Analyzing Consumer Choice Graphically: Indifference Curve Analysis

FROM INDIVIDUAL DEMAND CURVES TO MARKET DEMAND CURVES

Properties of the Budget Line Changes in the Budget Line What the Consumer Prefers: Properties of the Indifference Curve The Slopes of Indifference Curves and Budget Lines Tangency Conditions Consequences of Income Changes: Inferior Goods Consequences of Price Changes: Deriving the Demand Curve

Market Demand Curves as a Horizontal Sum of the Demand Curves of Individual Buyers The “Law” of Demand Exceptions to the “Law” of Demand

Geometry of Available Choices: The Budget Line

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The Building Blocks of Demand and Supply

PUZZLE:

WHY SHOULDN’T WATER BE WORTH MORE THAN DIAMONDS?

When Adam Smith lectured at the University of Glasgow in the 1760s, he introduced the study of demand by posing a puzzle. Common sense, he said, suggests that the price of a commodity must somehow depend on what that good is worth to consumers—on the amount of utility that the commodity offers. Yet, Smith pointed out, some cases suggest that a good’s utility may have little influence on its price. Smith cited diamonds and water as examples. He noted that water has enormous value to most consumers; indeed, its availability can be a matter of life and death. Yet water often sells at a very low price or is even free of charge, whereas diamonds sell for very high prices even though few people would consider them necessities. We will soon be in a position to see how marginal analysis, the powerful method of analysis introduced in this chapter, helps to resolve this paradox.

SCARCITY AND DEMAND When economists use the term demand, they do not mean mere wishes, needs, requirements, or preferences. Rather, demand refers to actions of consumers who, so to speak, put their money where their mouths are. Demand assumes that consumers can pay for the goods in question and that they are also willing to pay out the necessary money. Some of us may, for example, dream of owning a racehorse or a Lear jet, but only a few wealthy individuals can turn such fantasies into effective demands. Any individual consumer’s choices are subject to one overriding constraint that is at least partly beyond that consumer’s control: The individual has only a limited income available to spend. This scarcity of income is the obvious reason why less affluent consumers demand fewer computers, trips to foreign countries, and expensive restaurant meals than wealthy consumers do. The scarcity of income affects even the richest of all spenders—the government. The U.S. government spends billions of dollars on the armed services, education, and a variety of other services, but governments rarely, if ever, have the funds to buy everything they want. Because income is limited (and thus is a scarce resource), any consumer’s purchase decisions for different commodities must be interdependent. The number of movies that Jane can afford to see depends on the amount she spends on new clothing. If John’s parents have just sunk a lot of money into an expensive addition to their home, they may have to give up a vacation trip. Thus, no one can truly understand the demand curves for movies and clothing, or for homes and vacation trips, without considering demand curves for alternative goods. The quantity of movies demanded, for example, probably depends not only on ticket prices but also on the prices of clothing. Thus, a big sale on shirts might induce Jane to splurge on several, leaving her with little or no cash to spend on movies. So, an analysis of consumer demand that focuses on only one commodity at a time leaves out an essential part of the story. Nevertheless, to make the analysis easier to follow, we begin by considering products in isolation. That is, we employ what is called “partial analysis,” using a Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

SOURCE: © Comstock Images/Jupiterimages

Part 2

SOURCE: Larry Larminer/Brand X Pictures/Jupiterimages

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standard simplifying assumption. This assumption requires that all other variables remain unchanged. Later in the chapter and in the appendix, we will tell a fuller story.

SOURCE: © The New Yorker Collection, 1992 Mick Stevens from cartoonbank.com. All Rights Reserved.

UTILITY: A TOOL TO ANALYZE PURCHASE DECISIONS In the American economy, millions of consumers make millions of decisions every day. You decide to buy a movie ticket instead of a paperback novel. Your roommate decides to buy two tubes of toothpaste rather than one tube or three tubes. How do people make these decisions? Economists have constructed a simple theory of consumer choice based on the hypothesis that each consumer spends income in the way that yields the greatest amount of satisfaction, or utility. This seems to be a reasonable starting point, because it says only that people do what they prefer. To make the theory operational, we need a way to measure utility. A century ago, economists envisioned utility as an indicator of the pleasure a person derives from consuming some set of goods, and they thought that utility could be measured directly in some kind of psychological units (sometimes called utils) after somehow reading the consumer’s mind. Gradually, they came to realize that this was an unnecessary and, perhaps, impossible task. How many utils did you get from the last movie you saw? You probably cannot answer that question because you have no idea what a util is. Neither does anyone else. But you may be able to answer a different question like, “How many hamburgers would you give up to get that movie ticket?” If you answer “three,” no one can say how many utils you get from seeing a film, but they can say that you get more from the movie than from a single hamburger. When economists approach the issue in this manner, hamburgers, rather than the more vague “utility,” become the unit of measurement. They can say that the utility of a movie (to you) is three hamburgers. Early in the twentieth century, economists concluded that this indirect way of measuring consumer benefit gave them all they needed to build a theory of consumer choice. One can measure the benefit of a movie ticket by asking how much of some other commodity (like hamburgers) you are willing to give up for it. Any commodity will do for this purpose, but the simplest, most commonly used choice, and the one that we will use in this book, is money.1 So we will use phrases like “the money utility of a pair of shoes” to mean how large an amount of money the individual in question is willing to give up for those shoes.

The Purpose of Utility Analysis: Analyzing How People Behave, Not What They Think Here, a very important warning is required: Money (or hamburgers, for that matter) is an imperfect measure of utility. The reason is that measuring utility by means of money is like measuring the length of a table with a rubber yardstick. The value of a dollar changes— sometimes a great deal—depending on circumstances. For example, if you win $10 million in the lottery, an additional dollar can confidently be expected to add much less to your wellbeing than it would have one week earlier. After you hit the jackpot, you may not hesitate to spend $9 on a hamburger, whereas before you would not have spent more than $3. This difference does not mean that you now love hamburgers three times as much as before. Consequently, although we use money as an indicator of utility in this book, it should not be taken as an accurate indicator of consumers’ psychological attitude toward the goods they buy. So why do we use the concept of money utility? There are two good reasons. First, we do know how to approach measuring it (see next section), although we do not know how to measure what is going on inside the consumer’s mind. Second, and much more important, it Note to Instructors: You will recognize that, although not using the terms, we are distinguishing here between neoclassical cardinal utility and ordinal utility. Moreover, throughout the book, marginal utility in money terms (or money marginal utility) is used as a synonym for the marginal rate of substitution between money and the commodity.

1

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is extremely useful for analyzing demand behavior—what consumers will spend to buy some good, even though it is not a good indicator of what is going on deep inside their brains.

Total versus Marginal Utility Thus, we define the total monetary utility of a particular bundle of goods to a particular consumer as the largest sum of money that person will voluntarily give up in exchange for those goods. For example, imagine that you love pizza and are planning to buy four pizzas for a party you are hosting. You are, as usual, a bit low on cash. Taking this into account, you decide that you are willing to buy the four pies if they cost up to $52 in total, but you’re not willing to pay more than $52. As economists, we then say that the total utility of four pizzas to you is $52, the maximum amount you are willing to spend to have them. Total monetary utility (from which we will drop the word monetary from here on) measures your dollar evaluation of the benefit that you derive from your total purchases of some commodity during some selected period of time. Total utility is what really matters to you. But to understand which decisions most effectively promote total utility, we must The marginal utility of a make use of a related concept, marginal (monetary) utility. This concept is not a measure commodity to a consumer of the amount of benefit you get from your purchase decision but, rather, provides a tool (measured in money terms) with which you can analyze how much of a commodity that you must buy to make your is the maximum amount of total utility as large as possible. Your marginal utility of some good, X, is defined as the admoney that she or he is dition to total utility that you derive by consuming one more unit of X .2 If you consumed two willing to pay for one more pizzas last month, marginal utility indicates how much additional pleasure you would unit of that commodity. have received by increasing your consumption to three pizzas. Before showing how marginal utility helps to find what quantity of purchases makes total utility as large as possible, we must first discuss how these two figures are calculated TAB LE 1 and just what they mean. Your Total and Marginal Utility for Pizza This Month Table 1 helps to clarify the distinction between marginal and (1) (2) (3) (4) total utility and shows how the two are related. The first two Quantity Total Point in columns show how much total utility (measured in money terms) (Q) Pizzas Utility Marginal Utility Figure you derive from various quantities of pizza, ranging from zero to per Month (TU) (MU) 5 (DTU/D Q) 1 eight per month. For example, a single pizza pie is worth (no 0 $0.00 more than) $15 to you, two are worth $28 in total, and so on. The A $15.00 1 15.00 marginal utility is the difference between any two successive total B 13.00 2 28.00 utility figures. For example, assuming you have consumed three C 12.50 3 40.50 pizzas (worth $40.50 to you), suppose an additional pie brings D 11.50 4 52.00 your total utility to $52. Your marginal utility is thus the differE 8.00 5 60.00 ence between the two, or $11.50. F 5.00 6 65.00 Remember: Whenever we use the terms total utility and marginal G 3.00 7 68.00 utility, we define them in terms of the consumer’s willingness to H 0.00 8 68.00 part with money for the commodity, not in some unobservable (and imaginary) psychological units. NOTE: Each entry in Column (3) is the difference between successive entries in The total monetary utility of a quantity of a good to a consumer (measured in money terms) is the maximum amount of money that he or she is willing to give up in exchange for it.

Column (2). This is what is indicated by the zigzag lines.

The “Law” of Diminishing Marginal Utility With these definitions, we can now propose a simple hypothesis about consumer tastes: The more of a good a consumer has, the less marginal utility an additional unit contributes to overall satisfaction, if all other things remain unchanged.

Economists use this plausible proposition widely. The idea is based on the assumption that every person has a hierarchy of uses for a particular commodity. All of these uses are valuable, but some are more valuable than others. Take pizza, for example. Perhaps you consider your own appetite for pizza first—you buy enough pizza to satiate your own personal taste for it. But pizza may also provide you with an opportunity to satisfy your

For those of you who have taken a course in differential calculus it may help to recognize that “marginal utility” is just another name for the first derivative of total utility with respect to (an increase in) the quantity of the commodity consumed.

2

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As a rule, as a person acquires more of a commodity, total utility increases and marginal utility from that good decreases, all other things being equal. In particular, when a commodity is very scarce, economists expect it to have a high marginal utility, even though it may provide little total utility because people have so little of the item.

Using Marginal Utility: The Optimal Purchase Rule Now let us use the concept of marginal utility to analyze consumer choices. Consumers must always choose among the many commodities that

The “law” of diminishing marginal utility asserts that additional units of a commodity are worth less and less to a consumer in money terms. As the individual’s consumption increases, the marginal utility of each additional unit declines.

FI GURE 1 A Marginal Utility (or Demand) Curve: Your Demand for Pizza This Month

SOURCE: © The New Yorker Collection, 2001 Robert Mankoff from cartoonbank.com. All rights reserved.

Marginal Utility (Price) per Pizza

social needs. So instead of eating all the pizza you buy, you decide to have a pizza party. First on your guest list may be your boyfriend or girlfriend. Next priority is your roommate, and, if you feel really flush, you may even invite your economics instructor! So, if you buy only one pizza, you eat it yourself. If you buy a second pizza, you share it with your friend. A third is shared with your roommate, and so on. The point is: Each pizza contributes something to your satisfaction, but each additional pizza contributes less (measured in terms of money) than its predecessor because it satisfies a lower-priority use. This idea, in essence, is the logic behind the “law” of diminishing marginal utility, which asserts that the more of a commodity you already possess, the smaller the amount of (marginal) utility you derive from acquisition of yet another unit of the commodity. The third column of Table 1 illustrates this concept. The marginal utility (abbreviated MU) of the first pizza is $15; that is, you are willing to pay up to $15 for the first pie. The second is worth no more than $13 to you, the third pizza only $12.50, and so on, until you are willing to pay only $5 for the sixth pizza (the MU of that pizza is $5). Figure 1, a marginal utility curve, shows a graph of the numbers in the first and third columns of Table 1. For example, point D indicates that the MU $16 A 15 of a fourth pizza is $11.50. So, at any higher price, 14 B you will not buy a fourth pizza. C 13 Note that the curve for marginal utility has a nega12 D P 11 tive slope; this is yet another way of representing the P 10 assertion that marginal utility diminishes as the pos9 E sessed quantity of the good rises. Like most laws, 8 7 however, the “law” of diminishing marginal utility 6 has exceptions. Some people feel that the value to F 5 them of getting one more unit of some good rises 4 G 3 rather than falls as they acquire more of that item. This 2 can be so when the person is consumed by or ad1 H dicted to that product. Stamp collectors and alco0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 holics provide good examples. The stamp collector who has a few stamps may consider the acquisition Number of Pizzas per Month of one more to be mildly amusing. The person who has a large and valuable collection may be prepared to go to the ends of the earth for another stamp. Similarly, an alcoholic who finds the first beer quite pleasant may find the fourth or fifth to be absolutely irresistible. Economists generally treat such cases of increasing marginal utility as anomalies. For most goods and most people, marginal utility declines as consumption increases. Table 1 illustrates another noteworthy relationship. Observe that as someone buys more and more units of the commodity—that is, as that person moves further down the table—the total utility numbers get larger and larger, whereas the marginal utility numbers get smaller and smaller. The reasons should now be fairly clear. The marginal utility numbers keep declining, as the “law” of diminishing marginal utility tells us they will, but total utility keeps rising so long as marginal utility remains positive. A person who owns ten compact disks, other things being equal, is better off (has higher total utility) than a person who possesses only nine, as long as the MU of the tenth CD is positive. In summary:

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Total Net Utility

compete for their limited supply of dollars. How can you use the idea of utility to help you understand the purchase choices permitted by those dollars that best serve your preferences? You can obviously choose among many different quantities of pizza, any of which will add to your total utility. But which of these quantities will yield the greatest net benefits? If pizza were all that you were considering buying, in theory the choice would involve a simple calculation. We would need a statistical table that listed all of the alternative numbers of pizzas that you may conceivably buy. The table should indicate the net utility that each possible choice yields. That is, it should include the total utility that you would get from a particular number of pizzas, minus the utility of the other purchases you would forgo by having to pay for them—their opportunity cost. We could then simply read your optimal choice from this imaginary table—the number of pizzas that would give you the highest net utility number. Even in theory, calculating optimal decisions is, unfortunately, more difficult than that. No real table of net utilities exists; an increase in expenditure on pizzas would mean less money available for clothing or movies, and you must balance the benefits of spending on each of these items against spending on the others. All of this means that we must find a more effective technique to determine optimal pizza purchases (as well as purchases of Marginal analysis is a clothing, entertainment, and other things). That technique is marginal analysis. method for calculating To see how marginal analysis helps to explain how consumers determine their optimal optimal choices—the purchase decisions, first recall our assumption that you are trying to maximize the total choices that best promote net utility you obtain from your pizza purchases. That is, you are trying to select the numthe decision maker’s ber of pies that maximizes the total utility the pizzas provide you minus the total utility you objective. It works by give up with the money you must pay for them. testing whether, and by We can compare the analysis of the optimal decision-making process to the process of how much, a small change in a decision will move climbing a hill. First, imagine that you consider the possibility of buying only one pizza. things toward or away from Then suppose you consider buying two pizzas, and so on. If two pizzas give you a higher the goal. total net utility than one pizza, you may think of yourself as moving higher up the total net utility hill. Buying more pizzas enables you to ascend that hill higher and higher, until at some quantity you reach the top—the optimal purchase quantity. Then, if you buy any more, you will have overshot the peak and begun to descend the hill. F I GURE 2 Figure 2 shows such a hill and describes how your total net utility changes when you Finding Your Optimal change the number of pizzas you buy. It shows the upward-sloping part of the hill, where Pizza Purchase the number of purchases has not yet brought you to the top. Then it shows the point (M) Quantity: Maximizing at which you have bought enough pizzas to make your net utility as large as possible (the Total Net Utility peak occurs at four pizzas). At any point to the right of M, you have overshot the optimal purchase. You are on the downward side of the hill because you have $9 bought more than enough pizzas to best serve your interests; you have bought too M Total net 8 many to maximize your net utility. utility hill 7 How does marginal analysis help you to find that optimal purchase quantity, 6 and how does it warn you if you are planning to purchase too little (so that you are 5 4 still on the ascending portion of the hill) or too much (so that you are descending)? 3 The numerical example in Table 1 will help reveal the answers. The marginal utility 2 of, for example, a third pizza is $12.50. This means that the total utility you obtain 1 0 from three pizzas ($40.50) is exactly $12.50 higher than the total utility you get from 21 two pizzas ($28). As long as marginal utility is a positive number, the more you pur22 1 2 3 4 5 6 chase, the more total utility you will get. That shows the benefit side of the purchase, but such a transaction also has a Number of Pizzas debit side—the amount you must pay for the purchase. Suppose that the price is $11 per pizza. Then the marginal net utility of the third pizza is marginal utility miTotal Net Utility equals Total Utility minus Total Expenditure (Price 3 Quantity) nus price, $12.50 minus $11, or $1.50. This is the amount that the third pizza adds to your total net utility. (See the third and fourth lines of Table 1.) So you really are better off with three pizzas than with two. We can generalize the logic of the previous paragraph to show how marginal analysis solves the problem of finding the optimal purchase quantity, given the price of the commodity being purchased: IDEAS FOR BEYOND THE FINAL EXAM

RULE 1: If marginal net utility is positive, the consumer must be buying too small a quantity to maximize total net utility. Because marginal utility exceeds price, the

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consumer can increase total net utility further by buying (at least) one more unit of the product. In other words, since marginal net utility (which is marginal utility minus price) tells us how much the purchase of an additional unit raises or lowers total net utility, a positive marginal net utility means that total net utility is still going uphill. The consumer has not yet bought enough to get to the top of the hill. RULE 2: No purchase quantity for which marginal net utility is a negative number can ever be optimal. In such a case, a buyer can get a higher total net utility by cutting back the purchase quantity. The purchaser would have climbed too far on the net utility hill, passing the topmost point and beginning to descend.

This leaves only one option. The consumer cannot be at the top of the hill if marginal net utility (MU 2 P) is greater than zero—that is, if MU is greater than P. Similarly, the purchase quantity cannot be optimal if marginal net utility at that quantity (MU 2 P) is less than zero—that is, if MU is less than P. The purchase quantity can be optimal, giving the consumer the highest possible total net utility, only if Marginal net utility 5 MU 2 P 5 0; that is, if MU 5 P

Consequently, the hypothesis that the consumer chooses purchases to make the largest net contribution to total utility leads to the following optimal purchase rule: It always pays the consumer to buy more of any commodity whose marginal utility (measured in money) exceeds its price and less of any commodity whose marginal utility is less than its price. When possible, the consumer should buy a quantity of each good at which price (P) and marginal utility (MU) are exactly equal—that is, at which MU 5 P because only these quantities will maximize the net total utility that the consumer gains from purchases, given the fact that these decisions must divide available money among all purchases.3

Notice that, although the consumer really cares about maximizing total net utility (and marginal utility is not the goal), we have used marginal analysis as a guide to the optimal purchase quantity. Marginal analysis serves only as an analytic method—as a means to an end. This goal is maximization of total net utility, not marginal utility or marginal net utility. In Chapter 8, after several other applications of marginal analysis, we will generalize the discussion to show how thinking “at the margin” allows us to make optimal decisions in a wide variety of fields besides consumer purchases. Let’s briefly review graphically how the underlying logic of the marginal way of thinking leads to the optimal purchase rule, MU 5 P. Refer back to the graph of marginal utilities of pizzas (Figure 1). Suppose that Paul’s Pizza Parlor currently sells pizzas at a price of $11 (the dashed line PP in the graph). At this price, five pizzas (point E) is not an optimal purchase because the $8 marginal utility of the fifth pizza is less than its $11 price. You would be better off buying only four pizzas because that choice would save $11 with only an $8 loss in utility—a net gain of $3—from the decision to buy one less pizza. You should note that, in practice, there may not exist a number of pizzas at which MU is exactly equal to P. In our example, the fourth pizza is worth $11.50, whereas the fifth pizza is worth $8—neither of them is exactly equal to their $11 price. If you could purchase an appropriate, in-between quantity (say, 4.38 pizzas), then MU would, indeed, exactly equal P. But Paul’s Pizza Parlor will not sell you 4.38 pizzas, so you must do the best you can. You buy four pizzas, for which MU comes as close as possible to equality with P. The rule for optimal purchases states that you should not buy a quantity at which MU is higher than price (points like A, B, and C in Figure 1) because a larger purchase would Economists can equate a dollar price with marginal utility only because they measure marginal utility in money terms (or, as they more commonly state, because they deal with the marginal rate of substitution of money for the commodity). If marginal utility were measured in some psychological units not directly translatable into money terms, a comparison of P and MU would have no meaning. However, MU could also be measured in terms of any commodity other than money. (Example: How many pizzas are you willing to trade for an additional ticket to a basketball game?)

3

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make you even better off. Similarly, you should not end up at points E, F, G, and H, at which MU is below price, because you would be better off buying less. Rather, you should buy four pizzas (point D), where P 5 MU (approximately). Thus, marginal analysis leads naturally to the rule for optimal purchase quantities: The decision to purchase a quantity of a good that leaves marginal utility greater than price cannot maximize total net utility, because buying an additional unit would add more to total utility than it would increase cost. Similarly, it cannot be optimal for the consumer to buy a quantity of a good that leaves marginal utility less than price, because then a reduction in the quantity purchased would save more money than it would sacrifice in utility. Consequently, the consumer can maximize total net utility only if the purchase quantity brings marginal utility as close as possible to equality with price.

Note that price is an objective, observable figure determined by the market, whereas marginal utility is subjective and reflects consumer tastes. Because individual consumers lack the power to influence the price, they must adjust purchase quantities to make their subjective marginal utility of each good equal to the price given by the market.

From Diminishing Marginal Utility to Downward-Sloping Demand Curves We will see next that the marginal utility curve and the demand curve of a consumer who maximizes total net utility are one and the same. The two curves are identical. This observation enables us to use the optimal purchase rule to show that the “law” of diminishing marginal utility implies that demand curves typically slope downward to the right; that is, they have negative slopes.4 To do this, we use the list of marginal utilities in Table 1 to determine how many pizzas you would buy at any particular price. For example, we see that at a price of $8, it pays for you to buy five pizzas, because the MU of the fifth pizza ordered is $8. Table 2 gives several alternative prices and the optimal purchase quantity corresponding TABLE 2 to each price derived in just this way. (To make sure you understand the logic behind the List of Optimal Quantities optimal purchase rule, verify that the entries in the right column of Table 2 are, in fact, of Pizza for You to Purchase at Alternative Prices correct.) This table, which was initially interpreted as a marginal utility schedule, can also to be interpreted as a demand schedule, because it tells us what quantity of the good Quantity of Pizzas the consumer in question will demand at each price, the exact function of a consumer’s Price Purchased per Month demand schedule. This demand schedule appears graphically as the demand curve shown $ 3.00 7 in Figure 1. This demand curve is also simply the brick-colored marginal utility curve. 5.00 6 This is so because at any given price, the curve tells us what quantity of the good 8.00 5 11.50 4 the consumer will want to buy (the quantity at which marginal utility is equal to the 12.50 3 given price), and that is just how a demand curve is defined. So the curve in the 13.00 2 graph must be a demand curve. But the curve also tells us the marginal utility at any 15.00 1 such quantity, so it is also a marginal utility curve. You can also see its negative slope NOTE: For simplicity of explanation, the in the graph, which is a characteristic of demand curves. prices shown have been chosen to equal the marginal utilities in Table 1. In-between Let’s examine the logic underlying the negatively sloped demand curve a bit prices would make the optimal choices more carefully. Suppose you are purchasing the optimal number of pizzas, at which involve fractions of pizzas (say, 2.6 pizzas). price equals marginal utility. But then, if the price falls, you will find that your marginal utility for that product is now above the newly reduced price. For example, Table 1 indicates that at a price of $12.50 per pizza, you would optimally buy three pizzas, because the MU of the fourth pizza is only $11.50. If price falls below $11.50, it then pays to purchase more—it pays to buy the fourth pizza because its MU now exceeds its price. The marginal utility of the next (fifth) pizza is only $8. Thus, if the price falls below $8, it would pay you to buy that fifth pizza. So, the lower the price, the more the consumer will find it advantageous to buy, which is what is meant by saying that the demand curve has a negative slope. Note the critical role that the “law” of diminishing marginal utility plays here. If P falls, a consumer who wishes to maximize total utility must buy more, to the point that 4

If you need to review the concept of slope, refer to the discussion of graphic analysis in Chapter 1’s appendix.

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5

Richard H. Thaler, Quasi Rational Economics (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1992), pp. 148–150.

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Instru s /Texa P Im E: © A C SOUR

Thus, in this problem both groups were really being told they could save $5 on the price of a product if they took a 20-minute trip to another store. Yet, depending on an irrelevant fact, whether the product was a cheap or an expensive model, the number of persons willing to make the same trip to save the same amount of money was very different. The point is that human purchase decisions are affected by the environment in which the decision is made, and not only by the price and marginal utility of the purchase.5 There are many examples—here are two. Two groups of people were asked what they would do if, desperately thirsty after coming off a long walk in the desert, they saw a place selling a cold beer for $10. The first group was told it was a luxury hotel, and the members of the group enthusiastically elected to purchase it, but the other group was told that the beer was sold by a shabby grocery store at the same high price, and they indignantly refused

to wsFo PRNe ages/

One group of subjects received the information in parentheses, and the other received the information in brackets. . . . [Problem 1]. Imagine that you are about to purchase. . . . a calculator for ($15)[$125]. The calculator salesman informs you that the calculator you wish to buy is on sale for ($10)[$120] at the other branch of the store, located a 20-minute drive away. Would you make the trip to the other store? The responses to the two versions of this problem were quite different. When the calculator cost $125 only 29 percent of the subjects said they would make the trip, whereas 68 percent said they would go when the calculator cost only $15.

ments

MU falls enough to equal the new lower price. According to the “law” of diminishing marginal utility, the only way to do this is to increase the quantity purchased. Although this explanation is a bit abstract, we can easily rephrase it in practical terms. We have noted that individuals put commodities to various uses, each of which has a different priority. For you, buying a pizza for your date has a higher priority than using the pizza to feed your roommate. If the price of pizzas is high, it makes sense for you to buy only enough for the high-priority uses—those that offer high marginal utilities. When price declines, however, it pays to purchase more of the good—enough for some lower-priority uses. The same general assumption about consumer psychology underlies both the “law” of diminishing marginal utility and the negative slope of the demand curve. They are really two different ways of describing the same assumed attitudes of the consumer. Indeed, it may well have struck you that this chapter’s discussion of the consumer’s decision process—equating price and marginal utility—does not resemble the thought processes of any consumer you have ever met. Buyers may seem to make decisions much more instinctively and without any calculation of marginal utilities or anything like them. That is true— yet it need not undermine the pertinence of the discussion. When you give a command to your computer, you actually activate some electronic switches and start some operations in what is referred to as binary code. Most computer users do not know they are having this effect and do not care, yet they are activating binary code nevertheless, and the analysis of the computation process does not misrepresent the facts by describing this sequence. In the same way, if a shopper divides her purchasing power among various purchase options in a way that yields the largest possible utility for her money, she must be following the rules of marginal analysis, even though she is totally unaware of this choice. A growing body of experimental evidence, however, has pointed out some persistent deviations between reality and the picture of consumer behavior provided by marginal analysis. Experimental studies by groups of economists and psychologists have turned up many examples of behavior that seem to violate the optimal purchase rule. For instance, one study offered two groups of respondents what were really identical options, presumably yielding similar marginal utilities. Despite this equality, depending on differences in some irrelevant information that was also provided to the respondents, the two groups made very different choices.

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the offer. Here are individuals who, having purchased a bottle of wine for $15 some 20 years earlier and learning that such bottles now sell for $800, will not try to sell their bottle (suggesting it is worth more than $800 to them) but will also refuse to buy another at the current price (suggesting it is worth less than $800 to them). One can go on and on with examples of consumers not behaving as economic theory describes. But do such actions make a substantial difference to the performance of the economy? For example, would the price of the old wine fall substantially if most of the people who still own bottles offered them for sale? The answer is sometimes. But sometimes the market mechanism offsets the effects of such “irrationality.” A striking illustration arose when President Dwight Eisenhower had a heart attack. The next morning, the bottom dropped out of the stock market. Brokers were besieged by terrified investors who demanded immediate sale of their stockholdings at whatever price they could fetch. But there were many other potential stock buyers who recognized that, even if the president did not survive, there would be no radical change in the U.S. economy. The collapse of the market was an opportunity to acquire valuable securities at bargain prices, and they bought. By the next day, the market had fully recovered, and the effect of the irrational terror of the sellers of the previous day had evaporated. The bottom line is that human behavior is often far from the “rational decision making” assumed by the theory, but that does not always make a big difference in the behavior of the market.

BEHAVIORAL ECONOMICS: ARE ECONOMIC DECISIONS REALLY MADE “RATIONALLY”? Economic theory has traditionally focused on optimality in decision making. What bundle of supermarket purchases maximizes the consumer’s utility? What business decisions maximize company profits? In recent years, a number of economists and psychologists have questioned the implied assumption that economic decisions are made rationally, after careful calculation and comparison of the payoffs in terms of the decision makers’ goals. As you might expect, they have found much evidence of behavior that is inconsistent with economists’ typical rationality assumptions. This research has led to a school of thought called behavioral economics that investigates how consumers and other economic decision makers really behave.

CONSUMER CHOICE AS A TRADE-OFF: OPPORTUNITY COST We have expressed the optimal purchase rule as the principle guiding a decision about how much of one commodity to buy. However, we have already observed that the scarcity of income lurking in the background turns every decision into a trade-off. Given each consumer’s limited income, a decision to buy a new car usually means giving up some travel or postponing furniture purchases. The money that the consumer gives up when making a purchase—the expenditure on that purchase—is only one measure of the true underlying cost—what must be given up in exchange, and that is what we have defined as the opportunity cost of the purchase.

IDEAS FOR BEYOND THE FINAL EXAM

HOW MUCH DOES IT REALLY COST? The real cost is the opportunity cost of the purchase—the commodities that we must give up as a result of the purchase decision. This opportunity-cost calculation has already been noted in one of our Ideas for Beyond the Final Exam—we must always consider the real cost of our purchase decisions, which take into account how much of other things they force us to forgo. Any decision to buy implies some such trade-off because scarcity constrains all economic decisions. Although their dilemmas may not inspire much pity, even billionaires face very real trade-offs: Invest $200 million in an office building, or go for the $300 million baseball team?

This last example has another important implication. The trade-off from a consumer’s purchase decision does not always involve giving up another consumer good. This is true, Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

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for example, of the choice between consumption and saving. Consider a high school student who is deciding whether to buy a new car or to save the money to pay for college. If she saves the money, it can grow by earning interest, so that the original amount plus interest earned will be available to pay for tuition and board three years later. A decision to cut down on consumption now and put the money into the bank means that the student will be wealthier in the future because of the interest she will earn. This, in turn, will enable the student to afford more of her college expenses at the future date when those expenses arise. So the opportunity cost of a new car today is the forgone opportunity to save funds for the future. We conclude: From the viewpoint of economic analysis, the true cost of any purchase is the opportunity cost of that purchase, rather than the amount of money that is spent on it.

The opportunity cost of a purchase can be either higher or lower than its price. For example, if your computer cost you $1,800, but the purchase required you to take off two hours from your job that pays $20 per hour, the true cost of the computer—that is, the opportunity cost—is the amount of goods you could have bought with $1,840 (the $1,800 price plus the $40 in earnings that the purchase of the computer required you to give up). In this case, the opportunity cost ($1,840, measured in money terms) is higher than the price of the purchase ($1,800). (For an example in which price is higher than opportunity cost, see Test Yourself Question 4 at the end of the chapter.)

Consumer’s Surplus: The Net Gain from a Purchase The optimal purchase rule, MU (approximately) 5 P, assumes that the consumer always tries to maximize the money value of the total utility from the purchase minus the amount spent to make that purchase.6 Thus, any difference between the price consumers actually pay for a commodity and the price they would be willing to pay for that item represents a net utility gain in some sense. Economists give the name consumer’s surplus to that difference—that is, to the net gain in total utility that a purchase brings to a buyer. The consumer is trying to make the purchase decisions that maximize Consumer’s surplus 5 Total utility (in money terms) 2 Total expenditures

Thus, just as economists assume that business firms maximize total profit (equal to total revenue minus total cost), they assume that consumers maximize consumer’s surplus; that is, the difference between the total utility of the purchased commodity and the amount that consumers spend on it. The concept of consumer’s surplus seems to suggest that the consumer gains some sort of free bonus, or surplus, for every purchase. In many cases, this idea seems absurd. How can it be true, particularly for goods whose prices seem to be outrageous? We hinted at the answer in Chapter 1, where we observed that, if there is no cheating, both parties must gain from a voluntary exchange or else one of them will refuse to participate. The same must be true when a consumer makes a voluntary purchase from a supermarket or an appliance store. If the consumer did not expect a net gain from the transaction, he or she would simply not bother to buy the good. Even if the seller were to “overcharge” by some standard, that would merely reduce the size of the consumer’s net gain, not eliminate it entirely. If the seller is so greedy as to charge a price that wipes out the net gain altogether, the punishment will fit the crime: The consumer will refuse to buy, and the greedy seller’s would-be gains will never materialize. The basic principle states that every purchase that is not on the borderline—that is, every purchase except those about which the consumer is indifferent—must yield some consumer’s surplus. But how large is that surplus? At least in theory, it can be measured with the aid of a table or graph of marginal utilities (Table 1 and Figure 1). Suppose that, as in our earlier example, the price of a large pizza is $11 and you purchase four pizzas. Table 3 reproduces the marginal utility numbers from Table 1. It shows that the first pizza is worth $15 to you,

6

Consumer’s surplus is the difference between the value to the consumer of the quantity of Commodity X purchased and the amount that the market requires the consumer to pay for that quantity of X.

Again, in practice, the consumer can often only approximately equate MU and P.

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so at the $11 price, you reap a net gain (surplus) of $15 minus $11, or $4, by buying that pizza. The second pizza also brings you some surplus, but less than the first one does, because the marginal utility diminishes. Specifically, the second pizza provides a surplus of $13 minus $11, or $2. Reasoning in the same way, the third pizza gives you a surplus of $12.50 minus $11, or $1.50. It is only the fourth serving—the last one that you purchase— that offers little or no surplus because, by the optimal purchase rule, the marginal utility of the last unit is approximately equal to its price. We can now easily determine the total consumer’s surplus that you obtain by buying four pizzas. It is simply the sum of the surpluses received from each pizza. Table 3 shows that this consumer’s total surplus is $4 1 $2 1 $1.50 1 $0.50 5 $8

This way of looking at the optimal purchase rule shows why a buyer must always gain some consumer’s surplus if buying more than one unit of a good. Note that the price of each unit remains the same, but the marginal utility diminishes as more units are purchased. The last unit bought yields only a tiny consumer’s surplus because MU (approximately) 5 P, but all prior units must have had TABLE 3 marginal utilities greater than the MU of the last unit because of diCalculating Marginal Net Utility (Marginal minishing marginal utility. Consumer's Surplus) from Your Pizza Purchases We can be more precise about the calculation of the consumer’s Marginal Marginal Net surplus with the help of a graph showing marginal utility as a set of Quantity Utility Price Utility (Surplus) bars. The bars labeled A, B, C, and D in Figure 3 come from the cor0 responding points on the marginal utility curve (demand curve) in $15.00 $11.00 $4.00 1 Figure 1. The consumer’s surplus from each pizza equals the mar13.00 11.00 2.00 2 ginal utility of that pizza minus the price paid for it. By represent12.50 11.00 1.50 ing consumer’s surplus graphically, we can determine just how 3 11.50 11.00 0.50 much surplus was obtained from the entire purchase by measuring 4 Total $8.00 the area between the marginal utility curve and the horizontal line representing the price of pizzas—in this case, the horizontal line PP represents the (fixed) $11 price. In Figure 3, the bar whose upper-right corner is labeled A represents the $15 marginal utility derived from the first pizza; the same interpretation applies to bars B, C, and D. Clearly, the first serving purchased yields a consumer’s surplus of $4, indicated by the shaded part of bar A. The height of that part of the bar is equal to the $15 marginal utility minus the $11 price. In the same way, the next two shaded areas represent the surpluses offered by the second and third pizzas. The fourth pizza has the smallest shaded area because the height representing marginal utility is (as close as you can get to being) equal to the height representing price. Sum up the shaded areas in the graph to obtain, once

Graphic Calculation of Consumer’s Surplus

Marginal Utility and Price per Pizza

F I GURE 3 $16 $15.00 Marginal utility (demand) curve A 15 14 B $13.00 $12.50 C 13 $4.00 $11.50 D 12 $2.00 $1.50 $0.50 11 P P 10 9 $8.00 E 8 7 6 $5.00 F 5 4 $3.00 3 G 2 1 $0 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Number of Pizzas Purchased per Month

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again, the total consumer’s surplus ($4 1 $2 1 $1.50 1 $0.50 5 $8) from a four-pizza purchase. The consumer’s surplus derived from buying a certain number of units of a good is obtained graphically by drawing the person’s demand curve as a set of bars whose heights represent the marginal utilities of the corresponding quantities of the good and then drawing a horizontal line whose height is the price of the good. The sum of the heights of the bars above the horizontal line—that is, the area of the demand (marginal utility) bars above that horizontal line—measures the total consumer’s surplus that the purchase yields.

PUZZLE:

RESOLVING THE DIAMOND–WATER PUZZLE

We can now use marginal utility analysis to analyze Adam Smith’s paradox (which he was never able to explain) that diamonds are very expensive, whereas water is generally very cheap, even though water seems to offer far more utility. The resolution of the diamond–water puzzle is based on the distinction between marginal and total utility. The total utility of water—its role as a necessity of life—is indeed much higher than that of diamonds, but price, as we have seen, is not related directly to total utility. Rather, the optimal purchase rule tells us that price tends to equal marginal utility. We have every reason to expect the marginal utility of water to be very low, whereas the marginal utility of a diamond is very high. Given normal conditions, water is comparatively cheap to provide, so its price is generally quite low. Consumers thus use correspondingly large quantities of water. The principle of diminishing marginal utility, therefore, pushes down the marginal utility of water for a typical household to a low level. As the consumer’s surplus diagram (Figure 3) suggests, this also means that its total utility is likely to be high. In contrast, high-quality diamonds are scarce (partly because a monopoly keeps them so). As a result, the quantity of diamonds consumed is not large enough to drive down the MU of diamonds very far, so buyers of such luxuries must pay high prices for them. As a commodity becomes more scarce, its marginal utility and its market price rise, regardless of the size of its total utility. Also, as we have seen, because so little of the commodity is consumed, its total utility is likely to be comparatively low, despite its large marginal utility. Thus, like many paradoxes, the diamond–water puzzle has a straightforward explanation. In this case, all one has to remember is that Scarcity raises price and marginal utility, but it generally reduces total utility. And although total utility measures the benefits consumers get from their consumption, it is marginal utility that is equal (approximately) to price.

Income and Quantity Demanded Our application of marginal analysis has enabled us to examine the relationship between the price of a commodity and the quantity that will be purchased. But things other than price also influence the amount of a good that a consumer will purchase. As an example, we’ll look at how quantity demanded responds to changes in income. To be concrete, consider what happens to the number of ballpoint pens consumers will buy when their real income rises. It may seem almost certain that they will buy more ballpoint pens than before, but that is not necessarily so. A rise in real income can either increase or decrease the quantity of any particular good purchased. Why might an increase in income lead a consumer to buy fewer ballpoint pens? People buy some goods and services only because they cannot afford anything better. They may purchase used cars instead of new ones. They may use inexpensive ballpoint pens instead

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of finely crafted fountain pens or buy clothing secondhand instead of new. If their real incomes rise, they may then drop out of the used car market and buy brand-new automobiles or buy more fountain pens and fewer ballpoint pens. Thus, a rise in real income will reduce the quantities of cheap pens and used cars demanded. Economists have given the rather descriptive name inferior goods to the class of commodities for which quantity demanded falls when income rises. The upshot of this discussion is that economists cannot draw definite conclusions about the effects of a rise in consumer incomes on quantity demanded. But for most commodities, if incomes rise and prices do not change, quantity demanded will increase. Such an item is often called a normal good.

An inferior good is a commodity whose quantity demanded falls when the purchaser’s real income rises, all other things remaining equal.

FROM INDIVIDUAL DEMAND CURVES TO MARKET DEMAND CURVES So far in this chapter, we have studied how individual demand curves are obtained from the logic of consumer choice. To understand how the market system works, we must derive the relationship between price and quantity demanded in the market as a whole—the market demand curve. For example, the demand for laptops in Cleveland, Ohio, is described by such a demand curve. It is this market demand curve that plays a key role in the supplydemand analysis of price and output determination that we studied in Chapter 4.

A market demand curve shows how the total quantity of some product demanded by all consumers in the market during a specified period of time changes as the price of that product changes, holding all other things constant.

Market Demand Curves as a Horizontal Sum of the Demand Curves of Individual Buyers If each individual pays no attention to other people’s purchase decisions when making his or her own, then we can easily derive the market demand curve from consumers’ individual demand curves: As we will see next, we simply add the individual consumers’ demand curves, as shown in Figure 4. The figure gives the individual demand curves DD and ZZ for two people, Alex and Naomi, and the total (market) demand curve, MM. Alex and Naomi are both consumers of the product. We can derive this market demand curve in the following straightforward way: Step 1: Pick any relevant price, say, $10. Step 2: At that price, determine Alex’s quantity demanded (9 units) from his demand curve in Panel (a) of Figure 4 and Naomi’s quantity demanded (6 units) from her demand curve in Panel (b) of Figure 4. Note that these quantities are indicated by the line segment labeled AA for Alex and that labeled NN for Naomi. Step 3: Add Naomi’s and Alex’s quantities demanded at the $10 price (segment AA 1 segment NN 5 9 1 6 5 15) to yield the total quantity demanded by the market at that price. This gives segment CC, with total quantity demanded

The Relationship between Total Market Demand and the Demand of Individual Consumers within That Market

$10

A

N

A

M

Naomi’s demand

Price

Price

D

Z

Alex’s demand

Market demand K

Price

F I GURE 4

C

N

C 9

0

9 Quantity Demanded (a)

6 M

Z

D 0

6 Quantity Demanded (b)

0

15 Quantity Demanded (c)

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equal to 15 units, in Panel (c) of Figure 4. Notice that the addition constitutes a horizontal movement in the graph because we are adding quantities purchased, and those quantities are measured by horizontal distances from the zero points of each of the graphs. Now repeat the process for each alternative price to obtain other points on the market demand curve until the shape of the entire curve MM appears. (The sharp angle at point K on the market curve occurs because that point corresponds to the price at which Alex, whose demand pattern is different from Naomi’s, first enters the market. At any higher price, only Naomi is willing to buy anything.) That is all there is to the adding-up process. (Question: What would happen to the market demand curve if, say, another consumer entered the market?)

The “Law” of Demand Just as in the case of an individual’s demand curve, we expect the total quantity demanded by the market to move in the opposite direction from price, so the slope of the market demand curve will also be negative. Economists call this relationship the “law” of demand. Notice that we have put the word law in quotation marks. By now you will have observed that economic laws are not always obeyed, and we shall see in a moment that the “law” of demand is not without exceptions. But first let us see why the “law” usually holds. Earlier in this chapter, we explained that individual demand curves usually slope downward because of the “law” of diminishing marginal utility. If individual demand curves slope downward, then the preceding discussion of the adding-up process implies that market demand curves must also slope downward. This is just common sense; if every consumer in the market buys fewer pizzas when the price of pizza rises, then the total quantity demanded in the market must surely fall. But market demand curves may slope downward even if individual demand curves do not, because not all consumers are alike. Consider two examples where the individual’s demand curve does not slope downward. If a bookstore reduces the price of a popular novel, it may draw many new customers, but few of the customers who already own a copy will buy a second one, despite the reduced price. Similarly, true devotees of pizza may maintain their pizza purchases unchanged even if prices rise to exorbitant levels, whereas others would not eat pizza even if you gave it to them free of charge. But the market demand curves for books and pizzas can still have a negative slope. As the price of pizza rises, less enthusiastic pizza eaters may drop out of the market entirely, leaving the expensive pie to the more devoted consumers. Thus, the quantity demanded declines as price rises, simply because higher prices induce more people to give up pizza completely. And for many commodities, lower prices encourage new customers to come into the market (for example, new book buyers), and it is these “fair-weather” customers (rather than the negative slope of individual demand curves) who can be most important for the “law” of demand. This is also illustrated in Figure 4, in which only Naomi will buy the product at a price higher than D. At a price lower than D, Alex will also purchase the product. Hence, below point K, the market demand curve lies farther to the right than it would have if Alex had not entered the market. Put another way, a rise in price from a level below D to a level above D would cut quantity demanded for two reasons: (1) because Naomi’s demand curve has a negative slope and (2) because it would drive Alex out of the market. We conclude, therefore, that the “law” of demand stands on fairly solid ground. If individual demand curves slope downward, then the market demand curve surely will, too. Furthermore, the market demand curve may slope downward even when individual demand curves do not.

The “law” of demand states that a lower price generally increases the amount of a commodity that people in a market are willing to buy and also tends to increase the number of buyers. Therefore, for most goods, market demand curves have negative slopes.

Exceptions to the “Law” of Demand Some exceptions to the “law” of demand have been noted. One common exception occurs when people judge quality on the basis of price—they perceive a more expensive

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commodity as offering better quality. For example, many people buy name-brand aspirin, even if right next to it on the drugstore shelf they see an unbranded, generic aspirin with an identical chemical formula selling at half the price. The consumers who do buy the name-brand aspirin may well use comparative price to judge the relative qualities of different brands. They may prefer Brand X to Brand Y because X is slightly more expensive. If Brand X were to reduce its price below that of Brand Y, consumers might assume that it was no longer superior and actually reduce their purchases of X. Another possible cause of an upward-sloping demand curve is snob appeal. If part of the reason for purchasing a $300,000 Rolls-Royce is to advertise one’s wealth, a decrease in the car’s price may actually reduce sales, even if the quality of the car remains unchanged. Other types of exceptions have also been noted by economists, but for most commodities, it seems quite reasonable to assume that demand curves have negative slopes, an assumption that is supported by the data. This chapter has begun to take us behind the demand curve, to discuss how it is determined by the preferences of individual consumers. Chapter 6 will explore the demand curve further by examining other things that determine its shape and the implications of that shape for consumer behavior.

| SUMMARY | 1. Economists distinguish between total and marginal utility. Total utility, or the benefit consumers derive from a purchase, is measured by the maximum amount of money they would give up to obtain the good. Rational consumers seek to maximize (net) total utility, or consumer’s surplus: the total utility derived from a commodity minus the value of the money spent in buying it. 2. Marginal utility is the maximum amount of money that a consumer is willing to pay for an additional unit of a particular commodity. Marginal utility is useful in calculating the set of purchases that maximizes net total utility. This illustrates one of our Ideas for Beyond the Final Exam. 3. The “law” of diminishing marginal utility is a psychological hypothesis stating that as a consumer acquires more of a commodity, the marginal utility of additional units of the commodity decreases. 4. To maximize the total utility obtained by spending money on Commodity X, given the fact that other goods can be purchased only with the money that remains after buying X, the consumer must purchase a quantity of X such that the price equals (or approximately equals) the commodity’s marginal utility (in monetary terms). 5. If the consumer acts to maximize utility, and if the marginal utility of some good declines when purchased in larger quantities, then the consumer’s demand curve for the good will have a negative slope. A reduction in price will induce the consumer to purchase more units, leading to a lower marginal utility. 6. Abundant goods tend to have low prices and low marginal utilities regardless of whether their total

utilities are high or low. That is why water can have a lower price than diamonds despite its higher total utility. 7. An inferior good, such as secondhand clothing, is a commodity of which consumers buy less when they get richer, all other things held equal. 8. Consumers usually earn a surplus when they purchase a commodity voluntarily. This means that the quantity of the good that they buy is worth more to them than the money they give up in exchange for it. Otherwise, they would not buy it. That is why consumer’s surplus is normally positive. 9. As another of our Ideas for Beyond the Final Exam, “How Much Does It Really Cost?,” tells us, the true economic cost of the purchase of Commodity X is its opportunity cost—that is, the value of the alternative purchases that the acquisition of X requires the consumer to forgo. The money value of the opportunity cost of a unit of good X can be higher or lower than the price of X. 10. A rise in a consumer’s income can push quantity demanded either up or down. For normal goods, a rise in income raises the quantity demanded; for inferior goods, which are generally purchased in an effort to save money, a higher income reduces the quantity demanded. 11. The demand curve for an entire market is obtained by taking a horizontal sum of the demand curves of all individuals who buy or consider buying in that market. This sum is obtained by adding up, for each price, the quantity of the commodity in question that every such consumer is willing to purchase at that price.

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| KEY TERMS | consumer’s surplus inferior good

93

96

“law” of demand

97

“law” of diminishing marginal utility 87

marginal utility

market demand curve

96

marginal analysis

total monetary utility

86

88

86

| TEST YOURSELF | 1. Which gives you greater total utility: 14 gallons of water per day or 22 gallons per day? Why? 2. At which level do you get greater marginal utility: 14 gallons per day or 22 gallons per day? Why? 3. Which of the following items are likely to be normal goods for a typical consumer? Which are likely to be inferior goods? a. Expensive perfume b. Paper plates c. Secondhand clothing d. Overseas trips 4. Emily buys an air conditioner that costs $700. Because the air in her home is cleaner, its use saves her $250 in curtain cleaning costs over the lifetime of the air conditioner. In money terms, what is the opportunity cost of the air conditioner?

5. Suppose that strawberries sell for $3 per basket. Jim is considering whether to buy zero, one, two, three, or four baskets. On your own, create a plausible set of total and marginal utility numbers for the different quantities of strawberries (as we did for pizza in Table 1), and arrange them in a table. From your table, calculate how many baskets Jim would buy. 6. Draw a graph showing the consumer’s surplus Jim would get from his strawberry purchase in Test Yourself Question 5, and check your answer with the help of your marginal utility table. 7. Consider a market with two consumers, Jasmine and Jim. Draw a demand curve for each of the two consumers, and use those curves to construct the demand curve for the entire market.

| DISCUSSION QUESTIONS | 1. Describe some of the different ways you use water. Which would you give up if the price of water were to rise a little? If it were to rise by a fairly large amount? If it were to rise by a very large amount? 2. Suppose that you wanted to measure the marginal utility of a commodity to a consumer by directly determining the consumer’s psychological attitude or strength of feeling toward the commodity rather than by seeing how much money the consumer would give up for the commodity. Why would you find it difficult to make such a psychological measurement?

good that its price equals its marginal utility, the consumer could not possibly be behaving optimally. Rather, they say, the consumer would be better off quitting while ahead or buying a quantity such that marginal utility is much greater than price. What is wrong with this argument? (Hint: What opportunity would the consumer then miss? Is it maximization of marginal or total utility that serves the consumer’s interests?) 4. What inferior goods do you purchase? Why do you buy them? Do you think you will continue to buy them when your income is higher?

3. Some people who do not understand the optimal purchase rule argue that if a consumer buys so much of a

| APPENDIX | Analyzing Consumer Choice Graphically: Indifference Curve Analysis The consumer demand analysis presented in this chapter, although correct as far as it goes, has (at least) one shortcoming: By treating the consumer’s decision about the purchase of each commodity as an isolated event, it conceals the fact that consumers must choose among commodities because of their limited budgets. The analysis so far does not explicitly indicate the hard choice behind every purchase decision—the sacrifice of some goods to obtain others.

The idea is included implicitly, of course, because the purchase of any commodity involves a trade-off between that good and money. If you spend more money on rent, you have less to spend on entertainment. If you buy more clothing, you have less money for food. But to represent the consumer’s choice problem explicitly, economists have invented two geometric devices, the budget line and the indifference curve, which are described in this appendix.

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GEOMETRY OF AVAILABLE CHOICES: THE BUDGET LINE

TABLE 4 Alternative Purchase Combinations for a $12 Budget

Boxes of Rubber Bands (at $3 each)

Expenditure on Rubber Bands

Remaining Funds

0 1 2 3 4

$0 3 6 9 12

$12 9 6 3 0

Pounds of Cheese (at $2 each) 6 4.5 3 1.5 0

Label in Figure 5

A B C D E

If a straight line connects points A through E, the brown line in the diagram, it traces all possible ways to divide the $12 between the two goods. For example, at point D, if the consumer buys three boxes of rubber bands, he will have enough money left to purchase only 11⁄2 pounds of cheese. This is readily seen to be correct from Table 4. Line AE is therefore called the budget line.

A Budget Line

7 A Pounds of Cheese

Suppose, for simplicity, that only two commodities are produced in the world: cheese and rubber bands. The decision problem of any household is then to allocate its income between these two goods. Clearly, the more it spends on one, the less it can have of the other. But just what is the trade-off? A numerical example will answer this question and introduce the graphical device that economists use to portray the trade-off. Suppose that cheese costs $2 per pound, boxes of rubber bands sell at $3 each, and a consumer has $12 at his disposal. He obviously has a variety of choices, as displayed in Table 4. For example, if he buys no rubber bands, the consumer can go home with six pounds of cheese, and so on. Each of the combinations of cheese and rubber bands that the consumer can afford can be shown in a diagram in which the axes measure the quantities purchased of each commodity. In Figure 5, pounds of cheese are measured along the vertical axis, the number of boxes of rubber bands is measured along the horizontal axis, and a labeled point represents each of the combinations enumerated in Table 4. This budget line AE shows the possible combinations of cheese and rubber bands that the consumer can buy with $12 if cheese costs $2 per pound and a box of rubber bands costs $3. For example, point A corresponds to spending everything on cheese; point E corresponds to spending everything on rubber bands. At intermediate points on the budget line (such as C), the consumer buys some of both goods (at C, two boxes of rubber bands and three pounds of cheese), which together use up the $12 available.

FIGURE 5

6 5

G

B

4 C

3 2

D

K

1 E 0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

Boxes of Rubber Bands

The budget line for a household graphically represents all possible combinations of two commodities that it can purchase, given the prices of the commodities and some fixed amount of money at its disposal.

Properties of the Budget Line Let us now use r to represent the number of boxes of rubber bands purchased by the consumer and c to indicate the amount of cheese that he acquires. Thus, at $2 per pound, he spends on cheese a total of $2 times the number of pounds of cheese bought, or $2c. Similarly, the consumer spends $3r on rubber bands, making a total of $2c plus $3r, which must equal $12 if he spends the entire $12 on the two commodities. Thus, 2c 1 3r 5 12 is the equation of the budget line. It is also the equation of the straight line drawn in the diagram.7 Note also that the budget line represents the maximum amounts of the commodities that the consumer can afford. Thus, for any given purchase of rubber bands, it indicates the greatest amount of cheese that his money can buy. If the consumer wants to be thrifty, he can choose to end up at a point below the budget line, such as K. Clearly, then, the choices he has available include not only those points on the budget line, AE, but also any point in the shaded triangle formed by that line and the two axes, because at any such point the consumer buys smaller quantities of cheese and/or rubber bands than at points on AE and so spends less than the available $12. By contrast, points above the budget line, such as G, are not available to the You may have noticed one problem that arises in this formulation. If every point on the budget line AE is a possible way for the consumer to spend his money, he must be able to buy fractional boxes of rubber bands. Perhaps the purchase of 1Ω boxes can be interpreted to include a down payment of $1.50 on a box of rubber bands to be purchased on the next shopping trip! 7

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consumer, given his limited budget. A bundle of five pounds of cheese and two boxes of rubber bands would cost $16, which is more than he has to spend.

FIGURE 7 The Effect of Price Changes on the Budget Line

7

The position of the budget line is determined by two types of data: the prices of the commodities purchased and the income at the buyer’s disposal. We can complete our discussion of the graphics of the budget line by examining briefly how a change in either prices or income affects the location of that line. Obviously, any increase in the income of the household increases the range of options available to it. Specifically, increases in income produce parallel shifts in the budget line, as shown in Figure 6. The reason is simple: An increase in available income of, say, 50 percent, if spent entirely on these two goods, would permit the consumer’s family to purchase exactly 50 percent more of either commodity. Point A in Figure 5 would shift upward by 50 percent of its distance from the origin, whereas point E would move to the right by 50 percent.8 Figure 6 shows three such budget lines corresponding to incomes of $9, $12, and $18, respectively. Finally, we can ask what happens to the budget line when the price of some commodity changes. In Figure 7, when the price of the rubber bands

6

FIGU R E 6 The Effect of Income Changes on the Budget Line

U

Pounds of Cheese

8 7 6 5

A

Income = $18

D

4

Income = $12

Pounds of Cheese

Changes in the Budget Line

9

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Chapter 5

A

5 Rubber band price = $3.00 Rubber band price = $1.50

4 3 2 1 0

1

2

3

E 4

H 5

6

7

8

Boxes of Rubber Bands

decreases, the budget line moves outward, but the move is no longer parallel because the point on the cheese axis remains fixed. Once again, the reason is fairly straightforward. A 50 percent reduction in the price of rubber bands (from $3.00 to $1.50) permits the consumer to buy twice as many boxes of rubber bands with his $12 as before: Point E moves rightward to point H, where the buyer can obtain eight boxes of rubber bands. However, since the price of cheese has not changed, the amount of cheese that can be bought for $12 is unaffected, meaning that the end of the budget line at point A does not move. This gives the general result about the determination of the budget line: A reduction in the price of one of the two commodities swings the budget line outward along the axis representing the quantity of that item while leaving the location of the other end of the line unchanged. Thus a fall in the price of rubber bands from $3.00 to $1.50 swings the price line from AE to blue line AH. This happens because at the higher price, $12 buys only four boxes of rubber bands, but at the lower price, it can buy eight boxes.

3 2

Income = $9

1 0

1

2

N 3

E 4

5

P 6

7

8

Boxes of Rubber Bands

An algebraic proof is simple. Let M (which is initially $12) be the amount of money available to the consumer’s household. The equation of the budget line can be solved for c, obtaining c 5 2(3/2)r 1 M/2. This equation corresponds to a straight line with a slope of 23/2 and a vertical intercept of M/2. A change in M, the quantity of money available, will not change the slope of the budget line; rather, it will lead to parallel shifts in that line.

8

WHAT THE CONSUMER PREFERS: PROPERTIES OF THE INDIFFERENCE CURVE The budget line indicates what choices are available to the consumer, given the size of his income and the commodity prices fixed by the market. Next, we must examine the consumer’s preferences to determine which of these available possibilities he will choose with the given income and prices. After much investigation, economists have determined what they believe to be the minimum amount of information they need about a purchaser in order to analyze his choices. Economists only need to know how a

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consumer ranks alternative bundles of available commodities, deciding which of every relevant pair of bundles he likes better but making no effort to find out how much more he likes the preferred bundle. Suppose, for instance, that the consumer can choose between two bundles of goods, Bundle W, which contains three boxes of rubber bands and one pound of cheese, and Bundle T, which contains two boxes of rubber bands and three pounds of cheese. The economist wants to know for this purpose only whether the consumer prefers W to T or T to W, or whether he is indifferent about which one he gets. Note that the analysis requires no information about the degree of preference— whether the consumer is wildly more enthusiastic about one of the bundles or just prefers it slightly. Graphically, the preference information is provided by a group of curves called indifference curves (Figure 8). An indifference curve connects all combinations of the commodities that are equally desirable to the consumer.

Any point on the diagram represents a combination of cheese and rubber bands. (For example, point T on indifference curve Ib represents two boxes of rubber bands and three pounds of cheese.) Any two points on the same indifference curve (for example, S and W, on indifference curve Ia) represent two combinations of the goods that the consumer likes equally well. If two points, such as T and W, lie on different indifference curves, the consumer prefers the one on the higher indifference curve. Before we examine these curves, let us see how to interpret one. A single point on an indifference curve says nothing about preferences. For example, point R on curve Ia simply represents the bundle of goods composed of four boxes of rubber bands and F I GURE 8 Three Indifference Curves for Cheese and Rubber Bands

Pounds of Cheese

7 6 5 U

4 T

3 2

IC

S

1

R

W 0

1

2

Ib Ia

3

4

5

6

7

Boxes of Rubber Bands

8

1⁄2

pound of cheese. It does not suggest that the consumer is indifferent between 1⁄2 pound of cheese and four boxes of rubber bands. For the curve to indicate anything, one must consider at least two of its points—for example, points S and W. An indifference curve, by definition, represents all such combinations that provide equal total utility to the consumer. We do not know yet which bundle, among all of the bundles he can afford, the consumer will choose to buy; this analysis indicates only that a change in which of two such bundles the consumer selects will make him neither better off nor worse off, in terms of the items received. Before using indifference curves to analyze the consumer’s choices, one must examine a few of its properties. Most important is the fact that As long as the consumer desires more of each of the goods in question, every point on a higher indifference curve (that is, a curve farther from the origin in the graph) will be preferred to any point on a lower indifference curve.

In other words, among indifference curves, higher is better. The reason is obvious. Given two indifference curves, say, Ib and Ic in Figure 8, the higher curve will contain points lying above and to the right of some points on the lower curve. Thus, point U on curve Ic lies above and to the right of point T on curve Ib. This means that the consumer gets more rubber bands and more cheese at U than at T. Assuming that he desires both commodities, the consumer must prefer U to T. Because every point on curve Ic is, by definition, equal in desirability to point U, and the same relation holds for point T and all other points along curve Ib, the consumer will prefer every point on curve Ic to any point on curve Ib. This implies a second property of indifference curves: They never intersect. This is so because if an indifference curve, say, Ib, is anywhere above another indifference curve, say, Ia, then Ib must be above Ia everywhere, because every point on Ib is preferred to every point on Ia. Another property that characterizes the indifference curve is its negative slope. Again, this holds only if the consumer wants more of both commodities. Consider two points, such as S and R, on the same indifference curve. If the consumer is indifferent between them, one point cannot represent more of both commodities than the other point. Given that point S represents more cheese than point R, R must offer more rubber bands than S, or the consumer would not be indifferent about which he gets. As a result, any movement toward the point with the larger number of rubber bands implies a decrease in the quantity of cheese. The curve will always slope downhill toward the right, giving a negative slope.

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Consumer Choice: Individual and Market Demand

Chapter 5

A final property of indifference curves is the nature of their curvature—the way they round toward the axes. They are drawn “bowed in”—they flatten out (they become less and less steep) as they extend from left to right. To understand why this is so, we must first examine the economic interpretation of the slope of an indifference curve.

THE SLOPES OF INDIFFERENCE CURVES AND BUDGET LINES In Figure 9, the average slope of the indifference curve between points M and N is represented by RM/RN. The slope of an indifference curve, referred to as the marginal rate of substitution (MRS) between the commodities, represents the maximum amount of one commodity that the consumer is willing to give up in exchange for one more unit of another commodity.

RM is the quantity of cheese that the consumer gives up in moving from M to N. Similarly, RN is the increased number of boxes of rubber bands acquired in this move. Because the consumer is indifferent between bundles M and N, the gain of RN rubber bands must just suffice to compensate him for the loss of RM pounds of cheese. Thus, the ratio RM/RN represents the terms on which the consumer is willing—according to his own preference—to trade one good for the other. If RM/RN equals 2, the consumer is willing to give up (no more than) two pounds of cheese for one additional box of rubber bands.

FIGU R E 9 Slopes of a Budget Line and an Indifference Curve

I

Pounds of Cheese

M

B

R

N m D

n r

E

I F

B 0

Boxes of Rubber Bands

103

The slope of the budget line, BB, in Figure 9 is also a rate of exchange between cheese and rubber bands, but it no longer reflects the consumer’s subjective willingness to trade. Rather, the slope represents the rate of exchange that the market offers to the consumer when he gives up money in exchange for cheese and rubber bands. Recall that the budget line represents all commodity combinations that a consumer can get by spending a fixed amount of money. The budget line is, therefore, a curve of constant expenditure. At current prices, if the consumer reduces his purchase of cheese by amount DE in Figure 9, he will save just enough money to buy an additional amount, EF, of rubber bands, because at points D and F he is spending the same total number of dollars. The slope of a budget line is the amount of one commodity that the market requires an individual to give up to obtain one additional unit of another commodity without any change in the amount of money spent.

The slopes of the two types of curves, then, are perfectly analogous in their meaning. The slope of the indifference curve indicates the terms on which the consumer is willing to trade one commodity for another, whereas the slope of the budget line reports the terms on which the market allows the consumer to trade one good for another. It is useful to carry our interpretation of the slope of the budget line one step further. Common sense suggests that the market’s rate of exchange between cheese and rubber bands should be related to their prices, pc and pr, and it is easy to show that this is so. Specifically, the slope of the budget line is equal to the ratio of the prices of the two commodities. To see why, note that if the consumer gives up one box of rubber bands, he has pr more dollars to spend on cheese. But the quantity of cheese this money will enable him to buy is inversely related to its price; that is, the lower the price of cheese, the more cheese that money can buy—each dollar permits him to buy 1/pc pounds of cheese. So the additional pr dollars the consumer has available when he forgoes the purchase of one box of rubber bands permit him to buy pr times 1/pc 5 pr/pc more pounds of cheese. Thus, the slope of the budget line, which indicates how much additional cheese the consumer can buy when he gives up one box of rubber bands, is pr/pc. Before returning to our main subject, the study of consumer choice, we pause briefly and use our interpretation of the slope of the indifference curve to discuss the third of the properties of the indifference curve—its characteristic curvature—which we left unexplained earlier. The shape of indifference curves means that the slope decreases with movement from left to right. In Figure 9, at point m, toward the right of the diagram, the consumer is willing to give up

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far less cheese for one more box of rubber bands (quantity rm) than he is willing to trade at point M, toward the left. This situation occurs because at M the consumer initially has a large quantity of cheese and few rubber bands, whereas at m his initial stock of cheese is low and he has many rubber bands. In general terms, the curvature premise on which indifference curves are usually drawn asserts that consumers are relatively eager to trade away some part of what they own of a commodity of which they have a large amount but are more reluctant to trade away part of the goods of which they hold small quantities. This psychological premise underlies the curvature of the indifference curve. We can now use our indifference curve apparatus to analyze how the consumer chooses among the combinations that he can afford to buy—that is, the combinations of rubber bands and cheese shown by the budget line. Figure 10 brings together in the same diagram the budget line from Figure 5 and the indifference curves from Figure 8.

Tangency Conditions Because, according to the first of the properties of indifference curves, the consumer prefers higher curves to lower ones, he will go to the point on the budget line that lies on the highest indifference curve attainable. This will be point T on indifference curve Ib. He can afford no other point that he likes as well. For example, neither point K below the budget line nor point W on the budget line puts the consumer on such a high indifference curve. Further, any point on an indifference curve above Ib, such as point U, is out of the question because it lies beyond his financial means. We end up with a simple rule of consumer choice:

FIGURE 10 Optimal Consumer Choice

Pounds of Cheese

7

Ic

I Ib 6 a 5

U

4

Consumers will get the most benefit from their money when they choose combinations of commodities whose marginal rates of substitution equal the ratios of their prices.

It is worth reviewing the logic behind this conclusion. Why is it not advisable for the consumer to stop at a point such as W, where the marginal rate of substitution (slope of the indifference curve) is less than the price ratio (slope of the budget line)? By moving upward and to the left from W along his budget line, he can instead take advantage of market opportunities to obtain a commodity bundle that he likes better. This will always be true, for example, if the amount of cheese the consumer is personally willing to exchange for a box of rubber bands (the slope of the indifference curve) is greater than the amount of cheese for which the box of rubber bands trades on the market (the slope of the budget line).

Consequences of Income Changes: Inferior Goods

K

1 0

We can see why only the point of tangency, T (two boxes of rubber bands and three pounds of cheese), will give the consumer the largest utility that his money can buy. Suppose that the consumer were instead to consider buying 31⁄2 boxes of rubber bands and one pound of cheese. This would put him at point W on the budget line and on the indifference curve Ia. By buying fewer rubber bands and more cheese (a move upward and to the left on the budget line), he could get to another indifference curve, Ib, that would be higher and therefore more desirable without spending any more money. It clearly does not pay to end up at W. Only the point of tangency, T, leaves no room for further improvement. At a point of tangency, where the consumer’s benefits from purchasing cheese and rubber bands are maximized, the slope of the budget line equals the slope of the indifference curve. This is true by the definition of a point of tangency. We have just seen that the slope of the indifference curve is the marginal rate of substitution between cheese and rubber bands and that the slope of the budget line is the ratio of the prices of rubber bands and cheese. We can therefore restate the requirement for the optimal division of the consumer’s money between the two commodities in slightly more technical language:

T

3 2

Consumers will select the most desired combination of goods obtainable for their money. The choice will be that point on the budget line at which the budget line is tangent to an indifference curve.

W 1

2

3

4

5

6

Boxes of Rubber Bands

7

Now consider what happens to the consumer’s purchases after a rise in income. We know that a rise in income produces a parallel outward shift in the budget line, such as the shift from BB to CC in Figure 11. The

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Consequences of Price Changes: Deriving the Demand Curve

FIGURE 11 Effects of a Rise in Income When Neither Good Is Inferior

C Optimal consumption curve

Pounds of Cheese

B

E T I2 I1 B 0

1

2

3

C

4

Boxes of Rubber Bands

quantity of rubber bands demanded rises from three to four boxes, and the quantity demanded of cheese increases as well. This change moves the consumer’s equilibrium from tangency point T to tangency point E on a higher indifference curve. A rise in income may or may not increase the demand for a commodity. In Figure 11, the rise in income does lead the consumer to buy more cheese and more rubber bands, but indifference curves need not always be positioned in a way that yields this sort of result. In Figure 12, as the consumer’s budget line rises from BB to CC, the tangency point moves leftward from H to G. As a result, when his income rises, the consumer actually buys fewer rubber bands. This implies that for this consumer rubber bands are an inferior good.

Finally, we come to the main question underlying demand curves: How does a consumer’s choice change if the price of one good changes? We explained earlier that a reduction in the price of a box of rubber bands causes the budget line to swing outward along the horizontal axis while leaving its vertical intercept unchanged. In Figure 13, we depict the effect of a decline in the price of rubber bands on the quantity of rubber bands demanded. As the price of rubber bands falls, the budget line swings from BC to BD. The tangency points, T and E, also move in a corresponding direction, causing the quantity demanded to rise from two to three boxes. The price of rubber bands has fallen and the quantity demanded has risen, so the demand curve for rubber bands has a negative slope. The desired purchase of rubber bands increases from two to three boxes, and the desired purchase of cheese also increases, from 3 pounds to 33⁄4 pounds. The demand curve for rubber bands can be constructed directly from Figure 13. Point T shows that the consumer will buy two boxes of rubber bands when the price of a box is $3.00. Point E indicates that when the price falls to $1.50, quantity demanded rises to three boxes of rubber bands.9 These two pieces of information are shown in Figure 14 as points t and e on the demand curve for rubber bands. By examining the effects of other possible prices for rubber bands (other budget lines emanating from point B in Figure 13), we can find all the other points on the demand curve in FIGURE 13 Consequences of Price Changes

FIGURE 12 6

Pounds of Cheese

Pounds of Cheese

Effects of a Rise in Income When Rubber Bands Are an Inferior Good

C

105

Consumer Choice: Individual and Market Demand

Chapter 5

Optimal consumption curve

B

E

3 34–

T

3

B G C 0

2

3

4

D 8

Boxes of Rubber Bands H

B 0

1

2

3

4

Boxes of Rubber Bands

C How do we know that the price of rubber bands corresponding to the budget line BD is $1.50? Because the $12.00 total budget will purchase at most eight boxes (point D), the price per box must be $12.00/8 5 $1.50.

9

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Part 2

exactly the same way. The demand curve is derived from the indifference curve by varying the price of the commodity to see the effects of all other possible prices. The indifference curve diagram also brings out an important idea that the demand curve does not show. A change in the price of rubber bands also has consequences for the quantity of cheese demanded because it affects the amount of money left over for cheese purchases. In the example illustrated in Figure 13, the decrease in the price of rubber bands increases the demand for cheese from 3 to 33⁄4 pounds.

FIGURE 14

Price of Rubber Bands per Box

Deriving the Demand Curve for Rubber Bands

D $4.00 t

3.00

e

1.50

D 1

2

3

4

Quantity of Rubber Bands Demanded (boxes)

| SUMMARY | 1. Indifference curve analysis permits economists to study the interrelationships of the demands for two (or more) commodities. 2. The basic tools of indifference curve analysis are the consumer’s budget line and indifference curves. 3. A budget line shows all combinations of two commodities that the consumer can afford, given the prices of the commodities and the amount of money the consumer has available to spend. 4. The budget line is a straight line whose slope equals the ratio of the prices of the commodities. A change in price changes the slope of the budget line. A change in the consumer’s income causes a parallel shift in the budget line. 5. Two points on an indifference curve represent two combinations of commodities such that the consumer does not prefer one combination over the other.

6. Indifference curves normally have negative slopes and are bowed in toward the origin. The slope of an indifference curve indicates how much of one commodity the consumer is willing to give up to get an additional unit of the other commodity. 7. The consumer will choose the point on the budget line that gets him to the highest attainable indifference curve. Normally this will occur at the point of tangency between the two curves. This point indicates the combination of commodities that gives the consumer the greatest benefits for the amount of money he has available to spend. 8. The consumer’s demand curve can be derived from his indifference curve.

| KEY TERMS | budget line 100 indifference curve

slope of a budget line

103

102

slope of an indifference curve (marginal rate of substitution) 103

| TEST YOURSELF | 1. John Q. Public spends all of his income on gasoline and hot dogs. Draw his budget line under several conditions:

a. Approximately how much gasoline and how many hot dogs will Mr. Public buy?

a. His income is $100, and one gallon of gasoline and one hot dog each cost $2.

b. How will these choices change if his income increases to $140? Is either good an inferior good?

b. His income is $150, and the two prices remain the same.

c. How will these choices change if gasoline price rises to $3.00 per gallon?

c. His income is $100, hot dogs cost $2 each, and gasoline costs $2.50 per gallon. 2. Draw some hypothetical indifference curves for John Q. Public on a diagram identical to the one you constructed for Test Yourself Question 1.

3. Explain the information that the slope of an indifference curve conveys about a consumer’s preferences. Use this relationship to explain the typical U-shaped curvature of indifference curves.

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Demand and Elasticity A high cross elasticity of demand [between two goods indicates that they] compete in the same market. [This can prevent a supplier of one of the products] from possessing monopoly power over price. U . S. S U P R E ME C OURT, D UP ONT C ELLOP HANE D EC I S I ON , 1 9 5 6

I

n this chapter, we continue our study of demand and demand curves, which we began in the previous chapter. Here we explain the way economists measure how much quantity demanded responds to price changes and what such responsiveness implies about the revenue that producers will receive if they change prices. In particular, we introduce and explain an important concept called elasticity that economists use to examine the relationship between quantity demanded and price.

C O N T E N T S ISSUE: WILL TAXING CIGARETTES MAKE TEENAGERS STOP SMOKING?

ISSUE REVISITED: WILL A CIGARETTE TAX DECREASE TEENAGE SMOKING SIGNIFICANTLY?

REAL-WORLD APPLICATION: POLAROID VERSUS KODAK

ELASTICITY: THE MEASURE OF RESPONSIVENESS

WHAT DETERMINES DEMAND ELASTICITY?

IN CONCLUSION

ELASTICITY AS A GENERAL CONCEPT

| APPENDIX | How Can We Find a Legitimate Demand Curve from Historical Statistics?

Price Elasticity of Demand and the Shapes of Demand Curves

PRICE ELASTICITY OF DEMAND: ITS EFFECT ON TOTAL REVENUE AND TOTAL EXPENDITURE

Income Elasticity Price Elasticity of Supply Cross Elasticity of Demand

THE TIME PERIOD OF THE DEMAND CURVE AND ECONOMIC DECISION MAKING

An Illustration: Did the Advertising Program Work? How Can We Find a Legitimate Demand Curve from the Statistics?

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Part 2

The Building Blocks of Demand and Supply

ISSUE:

WILL TAXING CIGARETTES MAKE TEENAGERS STOP SMOKING?

Public health experts believe that increasing taxes on cigarettes can be a major weapon in the battle to cut teenage smoking. Imagine yourself on a panel of consultants helping a congressional committee draft new legislation to deal with this issue. As the youngest member of the group, you are asked for your opinion about how effective a big tax increase on cigarettes would be in persuading young people to stop smoking. How would you respond? What sorts of statistical data, if any, would you use to help form your opinion? How might you go about analyzing the relevant numbers? This chapter will help you answer such questions. As often happens in economics, we will see that careful investigation brings some surprises. This is true in the case of taxes to discourage teenage smoking. A tax on cigarettes may actually benefit teenagers’—and other citizens’—health. And it will, of course, benefit government finances by bringing in more tax money. Nothing surprising so far. Instead, the surprise is this: The more effective the tax is in curbing teenage smoking, the less beneficial it will be to the government’s finances, and vice versa; the more the tax benefits the government, the less it will contribute to health. The concept of elasticity of demand will make this point clearer.

SOURCE: © Reed Kaestner/Corbis

108

ELASTICITY: THE MEASURE OF RESPONSIVENESS Governments, business firms, supermarkets, and law courts all need a way to measure how responsive demand is to price changes—for example, will a 10 percent cut in the price of commodity X increase quantity of X demanded a little or a lot? Economists measure the responsiveness of quantity demanded to price changes via a concept called elasticity. Marketers sometimes use estimates of elasticity to decide how to price their products or whether to add new product models. A relatively flat demand curve like Figure 1(a)

F I GURE 1 Hypothetical Demand Curves for Film

Df

DS b

$20

a 10

Df

Price per Package

Price per Package

$20

B

A

10

DS

0

1.5 Quantity Demanded (a)

4

0

3

4

Quantity Demanded (b)

NOTE: Quantities are in millions of packages of film per year.

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109

Demand and Elasticity

Chapter 6

indicates that consumers respond sharply to a change in price—the quantity they demand falls by 2.5 units (from 4 units to 1.5 units) when price rises $10. That is, they demand or buy much less of the product when price rises even a little bit. Such a “touchy” curve is called elastic or highly elastic. A relatively steep demand curve like Figure 1(b), which indicates that consumers respond hardly at all to a price change, is called inelastic. In this graph, a $10 price rise cuts quantity demanded by only 1 unit. The precise measure used for this purpose is called the price elasticity of demand, or simply the elasticity of demand. We define elasticity of demand as the ratio of the percentage change in quantity demanded to the associated percentage change in price. Demand is called elastic if, say, a 10 percent rise in price reduces quantity demanded by more than 10 percent. Demand is called inelastic if such a rise in price reduces quantity demanded by less than 10 percent. Why do we need these definitions to analyze the responsiveness to price shown by a particular demand curve? At first, it may seem that the slope of the demand curve conveys the needed information: Curve DsDs is much steeper than curve DfDf in Figure 1, so any given change in price appears to correspond to a much smaller change in quantity demanded in Figure 1(b) than in Figure 1(a). For this reason, it is tempting to call demand in Panel (a) “more elastic.” Slope will not do the job because the slope of any curve depends on the particular units of measurement, and economists use no standardized units of measurement. For example, cloth output may be measured in yards or in meters, milk in quarts or liters, and coal in tons or hundred-weights. Figure 2(a) brings out this point explicitly. In this graph, we return to a pizza example like that in Chapter 5, measuring quantity demanded in terms of pizzas and price in dollars per pizza. A fall in price from $14 to $10 per large pizza (points A and B) raises quantity demanded at Paul’s Pizza Parlor from 280 pizzas to 360 per week—that is, by 80 pizzas. Now look at Figure 2(b), which provides exactly the same information but measures quantity demanded in slices of pizza rather than whole pizzas (with one pizza yielding eight slices). Here, the same price change as before increases quantity demanded, from 8 3 280 5 2,240 slices to 8 3 360 5 2,880 slices—that is, by 640 slices, rather than by 80 pizzas. Visually, the increase in quantity demanded looks eight times as great in Panel (b) as in Panel (a), but all that has changed is the unit of measurement. The 640-unit increase in

The (price) elasticity of demand is the ratio of the percentage change in quantity demanded to the percentage change in price that brings about the change in quantity demanded.

FI GURE 2

$18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

D A Price per Pizza

Price per Pizza

The Sensitivity of Slope to Units of Measurement at Paul’s Pizza Parlor

B

D

0 280 500 360

1,000 1,500 2,000 2,500 3,000

$18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0

D A

B D

500

1,000 1,500 2,000 2,500 3,000 2,240 2,880

Pizzas per Week

Slices of Pizza per Week

(a)

(b)

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Figure 2(b) represents the same increase in quantity demanded as the 80-unit increase in Figure 2(a). Just as you get different numbers for a given rise in temperature, depending on whether you measure it in Celsius or Fahrenheit, so the slopes of demand curves differ, depending on whether you measure quantity in pizzas or in pizza slices. Clearly, then, slope does not really measure responsiveness of quantity demanded to price, because the measure changes whenever the units of measurement change. Economists created the elasticity concept precisely in response to this problem. Elasticity measures responsiveness on the basis of percentage changes in price and quantity rather than on absolute changes. The elasticity formula solves the units problem because percentages are unaffected by units of measurement. If the government defense budget doubles, it goes up by 100 percent, whether measured in millions or billions of dollars. If demand for pizza triples, it rises by 200 percent, whether we measure the quantity demanded in number of pies or slices. The elasticity formula given earlier therefore expresses both the change in quantity demanded and the change in price as percentages.1 Furthermore, elasticity calculates the change in quantity demanded as a percentage of the average of the two quantities: the quantity demanded before the change in price has occurred (Q0) and the quantity demanded after the price change (Q1). In our example, the “before” pizza purchase is 280 (Q0), the quantity sold after the price fall is 360 (Q1), and the average of these two numbers is 320. The increase in number of pizzas bought is 80 pizzas, which is 25 percent of the 320 average of the sales before and after the price change. So 25 percent is the number we use as the purchase increase measure in our elasticity calculation. This procedure is a useful compromise between viewing the change in quantity demanded (80 pizzas) as a percentage of the initial quantity (280) or as a percentage of the final quantity (360). Similarly, the change in price is expressed as a percentage of the average of the “before” and “after” prices, so that, in effect, it represents elasticity at the price halfway between those two prices; that is, the price falls by $4 (from $14 to $10). Because $4 is 33 percent of the average of $14 (P0) and $10 (P1) (that is, $12), we say that in this case a 33 percent fall in price led to a 25 percent rise in quantity of pizza demanded. To summarize, the elasticity formula has two basic attributes: • Each of the changes with which it deals is measured as a percentage change. • Each of the percentage changes is calculated in terms of the average values of the

before and after quantities and prices.

In addition, economists often adjust the price elasticity of demand formula in a third way. Note that when the price increases, the quantity demanded usually declines. Thus, when the price change is a positive number, the quantity change will normally be a negative number; when the price change is a negative number, the quantity change will normally be a positive number. As a consequence, the ratio of the two percentage changes will be a negative number. We customarily express elasticity as a positive number, however. Hence: • Each percentage change is taken as an “absolute value,” meaning that the calculation

drops all minus signs.2

The remainder of this section involves fairly technical computational issues. On a first reading, you may prefer to go directly to the new section that begins on the next page. 2 This third attribute of the elasticity formula—the removal of all minus signs—applies only when the formula is used to measure the responsiveness of quantity demanded of product X to a change in the price of product X. Later in the chapter, we will show that similar formulas are used to measure the responsiveness between other pairs of variables. For example, the elasticity of supply uses a similar formula to measure the responsiveness of quantity supplied to price. In such cases, it is not customary to drop minus signs when calculating elasticity. The reasons will become clearer later in the chapter. 1

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111

Demand and Elasticity

Chapter 6

We can now state the formula for price elasticity of demand, keeping all three features of the formula in mind: Change in quantity demanded, expressed as a percentage Price elasticity of demand 5 of the average of the before and after quantities divided by the corresponding percentage change in price.

In our example: Elasticity of demand for pizzas 5 1 Q12Q0 2 /average of Q0 and Q1 1 P12P0 2 /average of P0 and P1

5

80/320 25% 5 5 0.76 1 approximately 2 4/12 33%

Price Elasticity of Demand and the Shapes of Demand Curves We noted earlier that looks can be deceiving in some demand curves because their units of measurement are arbitrary. Economists have provided the elasticity formula to overcome that problem. Nonetheless, the shape of a demand curve does convey some information about its elasticity. Let’s see what information some demand curve shapes give with the aid of Figure 3.

1. Perfectly Elastic Demand Curves Panel (a) of Figure 3 depicts a horizontal demand curve. Such a curve is called perfectly elastic (or infinitely elastic). At any price higher than $0.75, quantity demanded will drop to zero; that is, the comparative change in quantity demanded will be infinitely large. Perfect elasticity typically occurs when many producers sell a product and consumers can switch easily from one seller to another if any particular producer raises the price. For example, suppose you and the other students in your economics class are required to buy a newspaper every day to keep up with economic events. If news dealer X, from whom you have been buying the newspaper, raises the price from 75 cents to 80 cents, but the competitor, Y, across the street keeps the old price, then X may lose all her newspaper customers to Y. This situation is likely to prevail whenever an acceptable rival product is available at the going price (75 cents in the diagram). In cases in which no one will pay more than the going price, the seller will lose all of her customers if she raises her price by even a penny. FI GURE 3 Demand Curves with Different Elasticities

$0.75

D

$6 4 3

Quantity Demanded

D 90 Quantity Demanded

(a)

(b)

0

0

Straightline demand A curve

D

C

1 0

2

B

B' D 7

Quantity Demanded (c)

$30 20

A' C' 4 5

Unitelastic demand curve

D Price

D

“Perfectly inelastic” demand curve

Price

Price

“Perfectly elastic” demand curve

Price

D

S T

10 0

U 7

14

D U'

Quantity Demanded (d)

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2. Perfectly Inelastic Demand Curves Figure 3(b) shows the opposite extreme: a completely vertical demand curve. Such a curve is called perfectly inelastic throughout because its elasticity is zero at every point on the curve. Because quantity demanded remains at 90 units no matter what the price, the percentage change in quantity is always zero, and hence the elasticity (which equals percentage change in quantity divided by percentage change in price) is always zero. In this case, consumer purchases do not respond at all to any change in price. Vertical demand curves, such as the one shown in Figure 3(b), occur when a commodity is very inexpensive. For example, you probably will not buy more rubber bands if their prices fall. The demand curve may also be vertical when consumers consider the item in question to be an absolute necessity. For example, if your roommate’s grandfather has a heart attack, the family will buy whatever medicine the doctor prescribes, regardless of the price, and will not purchase any more even if the price falls. 3. (Seemingly Simple) Straight-Line Demand Curves Figure 3(c) depicts a case between these two extremes: a straight-line demand curve that runs neither vertically nor horizontally. Note that, although the slope of a straight-line demand curve remains constant throughout its length, its elasticity does not. For example, the elasticity of demand between points A and B in Figure 3(c) is Change in Q as a percentage of average Q 2/3 66.67% 5 5 5 1.67 Change in P as a percentage of average P 2/5 40%

The elasticity of demand between points A’ and B’ is 2 as a percentage of 6 33.33 percent 5 5 0.33 2 as a percentage of 2 100 percent

The general point is that

A demand curve is elastic when a given percentage price change leads to a larger percentage change in quantity demanded. A demand curve is inelastic when a given percentage price change leads to a smaller percentage change in quantity demanded. A demand curve is unit-elastic when a given percentage price change leads to the same percentage change in quantity demanded.

Along a straight-line demand curve, the price elasticity of demand grows steadily smaller as you move from left to right. That is so because the quantity keeps getting larger, so that a given numerical change in quantity becomes an ever-smaller percentage change. But, simultaneously, the price keeps going lower, so that a given numerical change in price becomes an ever-larger percentage change. So, as one moves from left to right along the demand curve, the numerator of the elasticity fraction keeps falling and the denominator keeps growing larger; thus the fraction that is the elasticity formula keeps declining.

4. Unit-Elastic Demand Curves If the elasticity of a straight-line demand curve varies from one part of the curve to another, what does a demand curve with the same elasticity throughout its length look like? For reasons explained in the next section, it has the general shape indicated in Figure 3(d). That panel shows a curve with elasticity equal to 1 throughout (a unit-elastic demand curve). A unit-elastic demand curve bends in the middle toward the origin of the graph—at either end, it moves closer and closer to the axes but never touches or crosses them. As we have noted, a curve with an elasticity greater than 1 is called an elastic demand curve (one for which the percentage change in quantity demanded will be greater than the percentage change in price); a curve whose elasticity is less than 1 is known as an inelastic curve. When elasticity is exactly 1, economists say that the curve is unit-elastic. Real-world price elasticities of demand seem to vary considerably from product to product. Because people can get along without them, moderately luxurious goods, such

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Chapter 6

as expensive vacations, are generally more price elastic—people give them up more readily when their prices rise—than goods such as milk and shirts, which are considered necessities. Products with close substitutes, such as Coke and Pepsi, tend to have relatively high elasticities because if one soft drink becomes expensive, many of its consumers will switch to the other. Also, the elasticities of demand for goods that business firms buy, such as raw materials and machinery, tend to be higher on the whole than those for consumers’ goods. This is because competition forces firms to buy their supplies wherever they can get them most cheaply. The exception occurs when a firm requires a particular input for which no reasonable substitutes exist or the available substitutes are substantially inferior. Table 1 gives actual statistical estimates of elasticities for some industries in the economy.

113

Demand and Elasticity

TABLE 1 Estimates of Price Elasticities

Product

Price Elasticity

Industrial chemicals Shoe repairs and cleaning Food, tobacco, and beverages Newspapers and magazines Data processing, precision and optical instruments Medical care and hospitalization insurance Metal products Purchased meals (excluding alcoholic beverages) Electricity (household utility) Boats, pleasure aircraft Public transportation China, tableware

0.4 0.4 0.5 0.5 0.7 0.8 1.1 1.6 1.9 2.4 3.5 8.8

SOURCES: H. S. Houthakker and Lester D. Taylor, Consumer Demand in the United States, 2d ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970), pp. 153–158; and Joachim Möller, “Income and Price Elasticities in Different Sectors of the Economy: An Analysis of Structural Change for Germany, the UK and the USA,” in Thjis ten Raa and Ronald Schettkat (eds.), The Growth of Service Industries: The Paradox of Exploding Costs and Persistent Demand, 2001, pp.167–208.

PRICE ELASTICITY OF DEMAND: ITS EFFECT ON TOTAL REVENUE AND TOTAL EXPENDITURE Aside from its role as a measure of the responsiveness of demand to a change in price, elasticity serves a second, very important purpose. As a real illustration at the end of this chapter will show, a firm often wants to know whether an increase in price will increase or decrease its total revenue—the money it obtains from sales to its customers. The price elasticity of demand provides a simple guide to the answer: If demand for the seller’s product is elastic, a price increase will actually decrease total revenue. If demand is exactly unit-elastic, a rise in price will leave total revenue unaffected. If demand is inelastic, a rise in price will raise total revenue. The opposite changes will occur when price falls.

A corresponding story must be true about the expenditures made by the buyers of the product. After all, the expenditures of the buyers are exactly the same thing as the revenues of the seller. These relationships between elasticity and total revenue hold because total revenue (or expenditure) equals price times quantity demanded, P 3 Q, and because a drop in price has two opposing effects on the two components of that formula. It decreases P, and, if the demand curve is negatively sloped, it increases Q. The first effect decreases revenues by cutting the amount of money that consumers spend on each unit of the good. The second effect increases revenues by raising the number of units of the good that the firm sells. The net effect on total revenue (or total expenditure) depends on the elasticity. If price goes down by 10 percent and quantity demanded increases by 10 percent (a case of unit elasticity), the two effects cancel out: P 3 Q remains constant. In contrast, if price goes down by 10 percent and quantity demanded rises by 15 percent (a case of elastic demand), P 3 Q increases. Finally, if a 10 percent price fall leads to only a 5 percent rise in quantity demanded (inelastic demand), P 3 Q falls. We can easily see the relationship between elasticity and total revenue in a graph. First, note that The total revenue (or expenditure) represented by any point on a demand curve (any price-quantity combination), such as point S in Figure 4, equals the area of the rectangle under that point (the area of rectangle 0RST in the figure). This is true because the

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114

The Building Blocks of Demand and Supply

Part 2

F I GURE 4 An Elastic Demand Curve

$6

Price

5

D R

S

W

4 3 2 1 T 0

4

area of a rectangle equals its height times the width, or 0R 3 RS in Figure 4. Clearly, that is price times quantity, which is exactly total revenue.

To illustrate the connection between elasticity and consumer expenditure, Figure 4 shows an elastic portion of a demand curve, DD. In this figure, when price falls, quantity demanded rises by a greater percentage, increasing total expenditure. At a price of $6 per unit, the quantity sold is V 4 units, so total expenditure is 4 3 $6 5 $24, represented by D the vertical rectangle whose upper-right corner is point S. When price falls to $5 per unit, 12 units are sold. Consequently, the new expenditure ($60 5 $5 3 12), measured by the rectangle 0WVU, exceeds the old expenditure. In contrast, Figure 3(d), the unit-elastic demand curve, shows constant expenditures even though price changes. Total spending is $140 whether the price is $20 and 7 units are sold U (point S) or the price is $10 and 14 units are sold (point T). 12 This discussion also indicates why a unit-elastic demand Quantity Demanded curve must have the shape depicted in Figure 3(d), hugging the axes closer and closer but never touching or crossing them. When demand is unit-elastic, total expenditure must be the same at every point on the curve; that is, it must equal $140 at point S and point T and point U in Figure 3(d). Suppose that at point U (or some other point on the curve), the demand curve were to touch the horizontal axis, meaning that the price would equal zero. Then total expenditure would be zero, not $140. Therefore, if the demand curve remains unit-elastic along its entire length, it can never cross the horizontal axis (where P 5 0). By the same reasoning, it cannot cross the vertical axis (where Q 5 0). Because the slope of the demand curve is negative, any unit-elastic curve simply must get closer and closer to the axes as it moves away from its middle points, as illustrated in Figure 3(d), though it will never touch either axis. We can now see why demand elasticity is so important for business decisions. A firm should not jump to the conclusion that a price increase will automatically add to its profits, or it may find that consumers take their revenge by cutting back a great deal on their purchases. In fact, if its demand curve is elastic, a firm that raises price will end up selling so many fewer units that its total revenue will actually fall, even though it makes more money than before on each unit it sells. Price cuts can also be hazardous—if the elasticity of demand is low. For example, among adult smokers cigarettes have an estimated price elasticity of between 0.25 and 0.50 meaning that we can expect a 10 percent drop in price to induce only a 2.5–5 percent rise in demand.3 This relationship may explain why, when Philip Morris cut the price of Marlboros by about 18 percent, the company’s profits dropped by 25 percent within months. Thus, the strategic value to a business firm of a price rise or a price cut depends very much on the elasticity of demand for its product. But elasticity tells us only how a price change affects a firm’s revenues; we must also consider the effect of costs on the firm’s output decisions, as we will do in Chapter 8.

ISSUE REVISITED:

WILL A CIGARETTE TAX DECREASE TEENAGE SMOKING SIGNIFICANTLY?

We’re back to the issue with which we began this chapter: Will a tax on cigarettes, which increases their price, effectively reduce teenage smoking? We can express the answer to this question in terms of the price elasticity of demand for cigarettes by teenagers. If that demand elasticity is high, the 3 Source: Frank J. Chaloupka, K. Michael Cummings, Christopher P. Morley, and Judith K. Horan, “Tax, Price and Cigarette Smoking: Evidence from the Tobacco Documents and Implications for Tobacco Company Marketing Strategies,” Tobacco Control, 11 (Supplement 1), (2002), pp. i62–i72.

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tax will be effective, because a small increase in cigarette taxes will lead to a sharp cut in purchases by teenagers. The opposite will clearly be true if this demand elasticity is small. It turns out that young people are more sensitive to price increases than adult smokers. The estimates of teenagers’ price elasticity of demand for cigarettes range from about 0.5 all the way up to 1.7.4 This means that if, for example, a tax on cigarettes raises their price by 10 percent, the number of teenage smokers will fall by somewhere between 5 and 17 percent. As we just noted, adults have been found to have a price elasticity of demand for cigarettes of between 0.25 and 0.50—their response to the 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes will be a decrease of only 2.5–5 percent in the number of adult smokers. So we can expect that a substantial tax on cigarettes that resulted in a significant price increase would cause a higher percentage of teenagers than adults to stop smoking.

We said earlier in the chapter that if a cigarette tax program failed to curb teen smoking, it would benefit the government’s tax collectors a great deal. On the other hand, if the program successfully curbed teenage smoking, then government finances would benefit only a little. The logic of this argument should now be clear. If teen cigarette demand were inelastic, the tax program would fail to make a dent in teen smoking. That would mean that many teenagers would continue to buy cigarettes and government tax revenue would grow substantially as a result of the rise in tax rate. But when elasticity is high, a price rise decreases total revenue (in this case, the amount of tax revenues collected) because quantity demanded falls by a greater percentage than the price rises. That is, with an elastic demand, relatively few teen smokers will remain after the tax increase, so there will be few of them to pay the new taxes. The government will “lose out.” Of course, in this case the tax seeks to change behavior, so the government would no doubt rejoice at its small revenues!

WHAT DETERMINES DEMAND ELASTICITY? What kinds of goods have elastic demand curves, meaning that quantity demanded responds strongly to price? What kinds of goods have inelastic demand curves? Several influences affect consumers’ sensitivity to price changes.

1. Nature of the Good Necessities, such as basic foodstuffs, normally have relatively inelastic demand curves, meaning that the quantities consumers demand of these products respond very little to price changes. For example, people buy roughly the same quantity of potatoes even when the price of potatoes rises. One study estimated that the price elasticity of demand for potatoes is just 0.3, meaning that when the price rises 10 percent, the quantity of potatoes purchased falls only 3 percent. In contrast, many luxury goods, such as restaurant meals, have rather elastic demand curves. One estimate found that the price elasticity of demand for restaurant meals is 1.6, so that we can expect a 10 percent price rise to cut purchases by 16 percent.

2. Availability of Close Substitutes If consumers can easily obtain an acceptable substitute for a product whose price increases, they will switch readily. Thus, when the

Source: Lisa M. Powell, John A. Tauras, and Hana Ross, “The Importance of Peer Effects, Cigarette Prices and Tobacco Control Policies for Youth Smoking Behavior,” Journal of Health Economics, 24, no. 5 (September 2005), pp. 950–968. 4

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market offers close substitutes for a given product, its demand will be more elastic. Substitutability is often a critical determinant of elasticity. The demand for gasoline is inelastic because we cannot easily run a car without it, but the demand for any particular brand of gasoline is extremely elastic, because other brands will work just as well. This example suggests a general principle: The demand for narrowly defined commodities (such as romaine lettuce) is more elastic than the demand for more broadly defined commodities (such as vegetables).

3. Share of Consumer’s Budget The

SOURCE: SELLING SHORT, June 11, 1981, © Universal Press Syndicate. Reprinted with permission. All Rights Reserved.

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share of the consumer’s budget represented by the purchase of a particular item also affects its elasticity. Very inexpensive items that absorb little of a consumer’s budget tend to have inelastic demand curves. Who is going to buy fewer paper clips if their price rises 10 percent? Hardly anyone. However, many families will be forced to postpone buying a new car, or will buy a used car instead, if auto prices go up by 10 percent.

4. Passage of Time The time period is relevant because the demand for many products is more elastic in the long run than in the short run. For example, when the price of home heating oil rose in the 1970s, some homeowners switched from oil heat to gas heat. Very few of them switched immediately, however, because they needed to retrofit their furnaces to accommodate the other fuel. So, the short-term demand for oil for home heating was quite inelastic. As time passed and more homeowners had the opportunity to purchase and install new furnaces, the demand curve gradually became more elastic.

ELASTICITY AS A GENERAL CONCEPT So far we have looked only at how quantity demanded responds to price changes—that is, the price elasticity of demand. But elasticity has a more general use in measuring how any one economic variable responds to changes in another. From our earlier discussion, we know that a firm will be keenly interested in the price elasticity of its demand curve, but its interest in demand does not end there. As we have noted, quantity demanded depends on other things besides price. Business firms will be interested in consumer responsiveness to changes in these variables as well.

1. Income Elasticity

Income elasticity of demand is the ratio of the percentage change in quantity demanded to the percentage change in income.

For example, quantity demanded depends on consumer incomes. A business firm’s managers will, therefore, want to know how much a change in consumer income will affect the quantity of its product demanded. Fortunately, an elasticity measure can be helpful here, too. An increase in consumer incomes clearly raises the amounts of most goods that consumers will demand. To measure the response, economists use the income elasticity of demand, which is the ratio of the percentage change in quantity demanded to the percentage change in income. For example, foreign travel is quite income-elastic, with middle-income and higher-income people traveling abroad much more extensively than poor people. In contrast, blue jeans, worn by rich and poor alike, show little demand increase as income increases.

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2. Price Elasticity of Supply Economists also use elasticity to measure other responses. For example, to measure the response of quantity supplied to a change in price, we use the price elasticity of supply— defined as the ratio of the percentage change in quantity supplied to the percentage change in price, for example, by what percent the supply of wheat increases when the price (at the time of planting) goes up by, say, 7 percent. The logic and analysis of all such elasticity concepts are, of course, perfectly analogous to those for price elasticity of demand.

3. Cross Elasticity of Demand Consumers’ demands for many products are substantially affected by the quantities and prices of other available products. This brings us to the important concept called cross elasticity of demand, which measures how much the demand for product X is affected by a change in the price of another good, Y. This elasticity number is significantly affected by the fact that some products make other products more desirable, but some products decrease consumer demand for other products. There are some products that just naturally go together; for example, for many consumers cream and sugar increase the desirability of coffee, and vice versa. The same is true of mustard or ketchup and hamburgers. In some extreme cases, neither product ordinarily has any use without the other—automobiles and tires, shoes and shoelaces, and so on. Such goods, each of which makes the other more valuable, are called complements. The demand curves of complements are interrelated; that is, a rise in the price of coffee is likely to reduce the quantity of sugar demanded. Why? When coffee prices rise, people drink less coffee and therefore demand less sugar to sweeten it. The opposite will be true of a fall in coffee prices. A similar relationship holds for other complementary goods. At the other extreme, some goods make other goods less valuable. These products are called substitutes. Ownership of a motorcycle, for example, may decrease one’s desire for a bicycle. If your pantry is stocked with cans of tuna fish, you are less likely to rush out and buy cans of salmon. As you may expect, demand curves for substitutes are also related, but in the opposite direction. When the price of motorcycles falls, people may desire fewer bicycles, so the quantity of bicycles demanded falls while that for motorcycles rises. When the price of salmon goes up, people may eat more tuna. Economists use cross elasticity of demand to determine whether two products are substitutes or complements. This measure is defined much like the ordinary price elasticity of demand, except that instead of measuring the responsiveness of the quantity demanded of, say, coffee, to a change in its own price, cross elasticity of demand measures how quantity demanded of one good (coffee) responds to a change in the price of another, say, sugar. For example, if a 20 percent rise in the price of sugar reduces the quantity of coffee demanded by 5 percent (a change of minus 5 percent in quantity demanded), then the cross elasticity of demand will be Percentage change in quantity of coffee demanded 25% 5 5 20.25 Percentage change in sugar price 20%

Two goods are called complements if an increase in the quantity consumed of one increases the quantity demanded of the other, all other things remaining constant. Two goods are called substitutes if an increase in the quantity consumed of one cuts the quantity demanded of the other, all other things remaining constant. The cross elasticity of demand for product X to a change in the price of another product, Y, is the ratio of the percentage change in quantity demanded of X to the percentage change in the price of Y that brings about the change in quantity demanded.

Obviously, cross elasticity is important for business firms, especially when rival firms’ prices are concerned. American Airlines, for example, knows all too well that it will lose customers if it does not match price cuts by Continental or United. Coke and Pepsi provide another clear case in which cross elasticity of demand is crucial, but firms other than direct competitors may well take a substantial interest in cross elasticity. For example, the prices of DVD players and DVD rentals may profoundly affect the quantity of theater tickets that consumers demand.

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The cross elasticity of demand measure underlies the following rule about complements and substitutes: If two goods are substitutes, a rise in the price of one of them tends to increase the quantity demanded of the other, so their cross elasticities of demand will normally be positive. If two goods are complements, a rise in the price of one of them tends to decrease the quantity demanded of the other item, so their cross elasticities will normally be negative. Notice that, because cross elasticities can be positive or negative, we do not customarily drop minus signs as we do in a calculation of the ordinary price elasticity of demand.

This result is really a matter of common sense. If the price of a good rises and buyers can find a substitute, they will tend to switch to the substitute. If the price of Japanesemade cameras goes up and the price of American-made cameras does not, at least some people will switch to the American product. Thus, a rise in the price of Japanese cameras causes a rise in the quantity of American cameras demanded. Both percentage changes are positive numbers and so their ratio—the cross elasticity of demand—is also positive. However, if two goods are complements, a rise in the price of one will discourage both its own use and use of the complementary good. Automobiles and car radios are obviously complements. A large increase in automobile prices will depress car sales, and this in turn will reduce sales of car radios. Thus, a positive percentage change in the price of cars leads to a negative percentage change in the quantity of car radios demanded. The ratio of these numbers—the cross elasticity of demand for cars and radios—is therefore negative. In practice, courts of law often evaluate cross elasticity of demand to determine whether particular business firms face strong competition that can prevent them from overcharging consumers—hence, the quotation from the U.S. Supreme Court at the beginning of this chapter. The quotation is one of the earliest examples of the courts using the concept of cross elasticities. It tells us that if two substitute (that is, rival) products have a high cross elasticity of demand (for example, between McDonald’s and Burger King), then neither firm can raise its price much without losing customers to the other. In such a case, no one can legitimately claim that either firm has a monopoly. If a rise in Firm X’s price causes its consumers to switch in droves to a Firm Y’s product, then the cross elasticity of demand for Firm Y’s product with respect to the price of Firm X’s product will be high. That, in turn, means that competition is really powerful enough to prevent Firm X from raising its price arbitrarily. This relationship explains why cross elasticity is used so often in litigation before courts or government regulatory agencies when the degree of competition is an important issue, because the higher the cross elasticity of demand between two products, the stronger must be the competition between them. So cross elasticity is an effective measure of the strength of such competition. The cross elasticity issue keeps coming up in the antitrust context whenever courts need to determine whether or not a firm has monopoly power. For example, in a 2007 dispute between Sun Microsystems and Versata Enterprises, Versata’s claim charging monopolistic behavior by Sun Microsystems was dismissed because Versata failed to adequately address cross elasticities. The issue also appeared when the United States Federal Trade Commission challenged a merger between Whole Foods Market and Wild Oats Markets, claiming that the combination would create a monopoly. (See “How Large Is A Firm’s Market Share? Cross Elasticity as a Test,” on page 119, for more on cross elasticity.)

THE TIME PERIOD OF THE DEMAND CURVE AND ECONOMIC DECISION MAKING One more important feature of a demand curve does not appear on a graph. A demand curve indicates, at each possible price, the quantity of the good that is demanded during a particular time period; that is, all of the alternative prices considered in a demand curve must refer to the same time period. Economists do not compare a price of $10 for Commodity X in January with a price of $8 in September.

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How Large Is a Firm’s Market Share? Cross Elasticity as a Test whether it included conventional supermarkets, as well. If two products have a high and positive cross elasticity, they must be close enough substitutes to compete closely; that is, they must be in the same market. But how large must the cross elasticity be before the court decides that two products are in the same market? Although the law has not established a clear elasticity benchmark to determine whether a particular firm is in a relevant market, several courts have determined that a very high cross elasticity number clearly indicates effective competition between two products, meaning that the two items must be in the same market. SOURCE: FTC v. Whole Foods Market, Inc., 548 F.3d 1028 (D.C. Cir. 2008).

SOURCE: © Jon Fisher/Workbook Stock/Jupiterimages

A firm’s “market share” is often a crucial element in antitrust lawsuits (see Chapter 13) for a simple reason. If the firm supplies no more than, say, 20 percent of the industry’s output, courts and regulators presume that the firm is not a monopoly, as its customers can switch their business to competitors if the firm tries to charge too high a price. On the other hand, if the defendant firm in the lawsuit accounts for 90 percent of the industry’s output, courts may have good reason to worry about monopoly power (which we cover in Chapter 11). Such court cases often provide lively debates in which the defendant firms try to prove that they have very small market shares and the plaintiffs seek to establish the opposite. Each side knows how much the defendant firm actually produces and sells, so what do they find to argue about? The dispute is about the size of the total relevant market, which clearly affects the magnitude of the firm’s market share. Ambiguity arises here because different firms do not produce identical products. For instance, are Rice Krispies in the same market as Cheerios? And how about Quaker Oatmeal, which users eat hot? What about frozen waffles? Are all of these products part of the same market? If they are, then the overall market is large, and each seller therefore has a smaller share. If these products are in different markets, the opposite will be true. Many observers argue, as the Supreme Court did in the famous DuPont cellophane case, that one proper criterion for determining the borders of the relevant market is cross elasticity of demand. More recently, in 2008, this issue reappeared in the government’s suit challenging Whole Foods Market’s acquisition of Wild Oats Markets, a case which hinged largely on whether the relevant market consisted of only “premium, natural and organic supermarkets” or

This feature imparts a peculiar character to the demand curve and complicates statistical calculations. For obvious reasons, actual observed data show different prices and quantities only for different dates. Statistical data may show, for example, the one price that prevailed in January and another that occurred at a later date, when that price had changed. Why, then, do economists adopt the apparently peculiar approach of dealing in a demand curve only with the hypothetical prices that may conceivably occur (as alternative An optimal decision is possibilities) in one and the same time period? The answer is that the demand curve’s the one that best serves the strictly defined time dimension arises inescapably from the logic of decision making and objectives of the decision the use of demand curves as a tool in attempts to reach an optimal decision—the decision maker, whatever those objectives may be. It is that moves the decision maker as close to the goal as is possible under the circumstances. When a business seeks to price one of its products for, say, the following six months, it selected by explicit or must consider the range of alternative prices available for that six-month period and the implicit comparison with the possible alternative consequences of each of these possible prices. For example, if management is reasonably choices. The term optimal certain that the best price for the six-month period lies somewhere between $3.50 and connotes neither approval $5.00, it should perhaps consider each of four possibilities—$3.50, $4.00, $4.50, and nor disapproval of the $5.00—and estimate how much it can expect to sell at each of these potential prices dur- objective itself. ing that given six-month period. The result of these estimates may appear in a format similar to that of the following table: Potential Six-Month Expected Quantity This table supplies managers with the information that they need to make Price Demanded optimal pricing decisions. Because the price selected will be the one at which $3.50 75,000 goods are sold during the period in question, all the prices considered in that 4.00 73,000 decision must be alternative possible prices for that same period. The table 4.50 70,000 therefore also contains precisely the information an economist uses to draw a 5.00 60,000 demand curve.

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The demand curve describes a set of hypothetical quantity responses to a set of potential prices, but the firm can actually charge only one of these prices. All of the points on the demand curve refer to alternative possibilities for the same time period—the period for which the decision is to be made.

Thus, a demand curve of the sort just described is not just an abstract notion that is useful primarily in academic discussions. Rather, it offers precisely the information that businesses or government agencies need to make rational decisions. However, the fact that all points on the demand curve are hypothetical possibilities for the same period of time causes problems for statistical estimation of demand curves. These problems are discussed in the appendix to this chapter.

REAL-WORLD APPLICATION: POLAROID VERSUS KODAK5 Let’s look at an example from the real world to show how the elasticity concept helps to resolve a concrete problem rather different from those we have been discussing. In 1989, a lengthy trial in a U.S. district court resulted in a judgment against the photographic products manufacturing company Eastman-Kodak for patent infringement of technology that rival firm Polaroid had designed. The court then set out to determine the amount of money Kodak owed Polaroid for its patent infringement during the 10-year period 1976 to 1986, when Kodak had sold very similar instant cameras and film. The key issue was how much profit Polaroid had lost as a result of Kodak’s entry into the field of instant photography, because that would determine how much Kodak would be required to pay Polaroid. Both price elasticity of demand and cross elasticity of demand played crucial roles in the court’s decisions. The court needed accurate estimates of the price elasticity of demand to determine whether the explosive growth in instant camera sales between 1976 and 1979 was mainly attributable to the fall in price that resulted from Kodak’s competition or was attributable to Kodak’s good reputation and the resulting rise in consumer confidence in the quality of instant cameras. If the latter were true, then Polaroid might actually have benefited from Kodak’s entry into the instant camera market rather than losing profits, because Kodak’s presence in the market would have increased the total number of potential customers aware of and eager to try instant cameras. After 1980, instant camera and film sales began to drop sharply. On this issue, the cross elasticity of demand between instant and conventional (35-millimeter) cameras and film was crucial to the explanation. Why? Because the decline in the instant camera market occurred just as the prices of 35-millimeter cameras, film, developing, and printing all began to fall significantly. So, if the decline in Polaroid’s overall sales was attributable to the decreasing cost of 35-millimeter photography, then Kodak’s instant photography activity was not to blame. In that case, the amount that Kodak would be required to pay to Polaroid would decrease significantly. But if the cross elasticity of demand between 35-millimeter photography prices and the demand for instant cameras and film was low, then the cause of the decline in Polaroid’s sales might well have been Kodak’s patent-infringing activity—thus adding to the damage compensation payments to which Polaroid was entitled. On the basis of its elasticity calculations, Polaroid at one point claimed that Kodak was obligated to pay it $9 billion or more. Kodak, however, claimed that it owed Polaroid something in the neighborhood of $450 million. A lot of money was at stake. The judge’s verdict came out with a number very close to Kodak’s figure.

Here it should be pointed out that William Baumol was a witness in this court case, testifying on behalf of Kodak.

5

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IN CONCLUSION In this chapter, we have continued our study of the demand side of the market. Rather than focusing on what underlies demand formation, as we did in Chapter 5, we applied demand analysis to business decisions. Most notably, we described and analyzed the economist’s measure of the responsiveness of consumer demand to changes in price, and we showed how this assessment determines the effect of a firm’s price change on the revenues of that enterprise. We illustrated how these concepts throw light not only on business sales and revenues but also on a number of rather different issues, such as smoking and health, the effectiveness of competition among business firms as studied by courts of law, and the determination of penalties for patent infringement. In the next chapter, we turn to the supply side of the market and move a step closer to completing the framework we need to understand how markets work.

| SUMMARY | 1. To measure the responsiveness of the quantity demanded to price, economists calculate the elasticity of demand, which is defined as the percentage change in quantity demanded divided by the percentage change in price, after elimination of the minus sign. 2. If demand is elastic (elasticity is greater than 1), then a rise in price will reduce total expenditures on the product (5 sellers’ total revenue). If demand is unit-elastic (elasticity is equal to 1), then a rise in price will not change total expenditures. If demand is inelastic (elasticity is less than 1), then a rise in price will increase total expenditure. 3. Goods that make each other more desirable (hot dogs and mustard, wristwatches and watch straps) are called complements. When two goods are such that when consumers get more of one of them, they want less of the

other (steaks and hamburgers, Coke and Pepsi), economists call those goods substitutes. 4. Cross elasticity of demand is defined as the percentage change in the quantity demanded of one good divided by the percentage change in the price of another good. Two substitute products normally have a positive cross elasticity of demand. Two complementary products normally have a negative cross elasticity of demand. 5. A rise in the price of one of two substitute products can be expected to shift the demand curve of the other product to the right. A rise in the price of one of two complementary goods tends to shift the other good’s demand curve to the left. 6. All points on a demand curve refer to the same time period—the time during which the price that is being decided upon or otherwise considered will be in effect.

| KEY TERMS | complements

117

cross elasticity of demand (price) elasticity of demand

117 109

elastic, inelastic, and unit-elastic demand curves 112 income elasticity of demand

optimal decision substitutes

119

117

116

| TEST YOURSELF | 1. What variables other than price and advertising are likely to affect the quantity demanded of a product? 2. Describe the probable shifts in the demand curves for a. Airplane trips when airlines’ on-time performance improves b. Automobiles when airplane fares increase c. Automobiles when gasoline prices increase d. Electricity when the average temperature in the United States rises during a particular year (Note: The demand curve for electricity in Maine and the

demand curve for electricity in Florida should respond in different ways. Why?) 3. Taxes on particular goods discourage their consumption. Economists say that such taxes “distort consumer demands.” In terms of the elasticity of demand or elasticity of supply for the commodities in question, what sort of goods would you choose to tax to achieve the following objectives? a. Collect a large amount of tax revenue b. Distort demand as little as possible

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c. Discourage consumption of harmful commodities d. Discourage production of polluting commodities 4. Give examples of commodities whose demand you would expect to be elastic and commodities whose demand you would expect to be inelastic. 5. A rise in the price of a certain commodity from $20 to $25 reduces quantity demanded from 25,000 to 10,000 units. Calculate the price elasticity of demand. 6. If the price elasticity of demand for gasoline is 0.3 and the current price is $3.20 per gallon, what rise in the price of gasoline will reduce its consumption by 10 percent?

7. Which of the following product pairs would you expect to be substitutes, and which would you expect to be complements? a. Shoes and sneakers b. Gasoline and sport-utility vehicles c. Bread and butter d. Instant camera film and regular camera film 8. For each of the product pairs given in Test Yourself Question 7, what would you guess about the products’ cross elasticity of demand? a. Do you expect it to be positive or negative? b. Do you expect it to be a large or small number? Why?

| DISCUSSION QUESTIONS | 1. Explain why elasticity of demand is measured in percentages.

5. Name some events that will cause a demand curve to shift.

2. Explain why the elasticity of demand formula normally eliminates minus signs.

6. Explain why the following statement is true: “A firm with a demand curve that is inelastic at its current output level can always increase its profits by raising its price and selling less.” (Hint: Refer back to the discussion of elasticity and total expenditure/total revenue on pages 113–114.)

3. Explain why the elasticity of a straight-line demand curve varies from one part of the curve to another. 4. A rise in the price of a product whose demand is elastic will reduce the total revenue of the firm. Explain.

| APPENDIX | How Can We Find a Legitimate Demand Curve from Historical Statistics? The peculiar time dimension of the demand curve, in conjunction with the fact that many variables other than price influence quantity demanded, makes it surprisingly difficult to derive a product’s demand curve from historical statistical data. Specialists can and often do derive such estimates, but the task is full of booby traps and usually requires advanced statistical methods and interpretation. This appendix seeks to warn you about the booby traps. It implies, for example, that if you become the marketing manager of a business firm after you graduate from college and you need demand analysis, you will need experts to do the job. This appendix will also show you some mistakes to look for as you interpret the results, if you have reason to doubt the qualifications of the statisticians you hire to calculate or forecast your demand curve. It also gives an intuitive explanation of the legitimate ways in which demand curves may be determined from the statistics. The most obvious way to go about estimating a demand curve statistically is to collect a set of figures on prices and quantities sold in different periods, like those given in Table 2. These points can be plotted on a diagram with price and quantity on the axes, as shown in Figure 5. We can then draw a line (the dashed line TT) that comes as close as possible to connecting

these points (labeled Jan., Feb., and so on), and in this graph the line follows them reasonably well. This line may therefore appear to approximate the demand curve that we are seeking, but unfortunately line TT, which summarizes the data for different points of time, may bear no relationship to the true demand curve. Let us see why, and get some idea as to what can be done about it. You may notice that the prices and quantities represented by the historical points in Figure 5 refer to different periods of time, and that each point on the graph represents an actual (not hypothetical) price and quantity sold at a particular period of time (for example, one point gives the data for January, another for February, and so on). The distinction is significant. Over the entire period covered by the historical data (January through May), the true demand curve, which is what an economist really needs to analyze decision TABLE 2 Historical Data on Price and Quantity

January

February

Quantity Sold 95,000 Price $7.20

91,500 $8.00

March

April

95,000 90,000 $7.70 $8.00

May 91,000 $8.20

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FIGU R E 5

FIGURE 6

Plot of Historical Data on Price and Quantity

Plot of Historical Data and True Demand Curves for January, February, and March

Average Price

8.00

T

May $8.20

Feb. April

T F

R

Feb.

8.00

7.80

R

S March

7.60

Average Price

$8.20

7.40 Jan.

7.20 7.00

W

S

7.80

March

M

M

7.60

F J

7.40 7.20

T

Jan.

J

7.00 T 0

90

91

92

93

94

95

96

97

98

Quantity Demanded in Thousands

0

90

91

92

93

94

95

96

97

98

Quantity Demanded in Thousands

problems, may well have shifted because of changes in some of the other variables affecting quantity demanded. The actual events may appear as shown in Figure 6. In January, the demand curve was given by JJ, but by February the curve had shifted to FF, by March to MM, and so on. This figure shows a separate and distinct demand curve for each of the relevant months, and none of them needs to resemble the line we drew as a plot of historical data, TT. In fact, the slope of the historical plot curve, TT, can be very different from the slopes of the true underlying demand curves, as is the case in Figure 6. As a consequence, the decision maker can be seriously misled if she selects her price on the basis of the historical data. She may, for example, think that quantity demanded is quite insensitive to changes in price (as the steepness of line TT seems to indicate), and so may conclude that a price reduction is not advisable. In fact, the true demand curves show that a price reduction would increase quantity demanded substantially, because they are much more elastic than the shape of the estimated line TT in Figure 5 would suggest. For example, if the decision maker were to charge a price of $7.80 rather than $8.00 in February, the historical plot would lead her to expect a rise in quantity demanded of only 1,000 units. (Compare point R, with sales of 91,500 units, and point S, with sales of 92,500 units, in Figure 5.) The true demand curve for February (line FF in Figure 6), however, indicates an increase in sales of 2,500 units (from point R, with sales of 91,500 units, to point W, with sales of 94,000 units). A manager who based her decision on the historical plot,

rather than on the true February demand curve, might be led into serious error. Nevertheless, it is astonishing how often people make this mistake in practice, even when using apparently sophisticated techniques.

AN ILLUSTRATION: DID THE ADVERTISING PROGRAM WORK? Some years ago, one of the largest producers of packaged foods in the United States conducted a statistical study to judge the effectiveness of its advertising expenditures, which amounted to nearly $100 million per year. A company statistician collected year-by-year figures on company sales and advertising outlays and discovered, to his delight, that they showed a remarkably close relationship to one another: Quantity demanded always rose as advertising rose. The trouble was that the relationship seemed just too perfect. In economics, data about demand and any one of the elements that influence it almost never show such a neat pattern. Human tastes and other pertinent influences are too variable to permit such regularity. Suspicious company executives asked one of the authors of this book to examine the analysis. A little thought showed that the suspiciously close statistical relationship between sales and advertising expenditures resulted from a disregard for the principles just presented. The investigator had, in fact, constructed a graph of historical data on sales and advertising expenditure, analogous to TT in Figures 5 and 6 and therefore not necessarily similar to the truly relevant relationship.

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have much effect on their sales. In fact, it is reasonable to assume that the quantity of umbrellas demanded in a year depends largely on two influences: their price and the amount of rainfall. As we know, a change in price will lead to a movement along the demand curve without shifting it. Heavy rains will shift the demand curve outward, because people will need to buy more umbrellas, whereas the curve will shift inward in a drought year. Ideally, we would like to find some dates when the demand curve stayed in the same position but the supply curve shifted so that we can obtain a number of different equilibrium points, all of which lie on or near the same demand curve. Suppose that rainfall in St. Louis was as given in Table 3 for the period 2001–2009 and that prices and quantities of umbrellas sold in those years were as indicated by the dots in Figure 7. Notice, first, that in years in which rainfall was highest, such as 2005 and 2009, the dots in the graph lie farthest to the right, whereas the dots for low-rain years lie toward the left, meaning that in rainier years more umbrellas were sold, as our hypothesis about the effect of rain on sales suggests. More important for our purposes, for the four years 2001, 2003, 2004, and 2008, rainfall was about the same—nearly 27 inches. Thus, the demand curve did not shift from one of these years to the next. It is reasonable to conclude that the dots for these four years fell close to the same true demand curve.

It became apparent, after study of the situation, that the stability of the relationship actually arose from the fact that, in the past, the company had based its advertising spending on its sales, automatically allocating a fixed percentage of its sales revenues to advertising. The historical relationship between advertising and demand therefore described only the company’s budgeting practices, not the effectiveness of its advertising program. It showed the effect of sales on advertising, not the effect of advertising on sales, which was the desired information. If the firm’s management had used this curve in planning future advertising campaigns, it might have made some regrettable decisions. The moral of the story: Avoid the use of purely historical curves like TT in making economic decisions.

HOW CAN WE FIND A LEGITIMATE DEMAND CURVE FROM THE STATISTICS? The trouble with the discussion so far is that it tells you only what you cannot legitimately do, but business executives and economists often need information about demand curves—for example, to analyze a pricing decision for next April. How can the true demand curves be found? In practice, statisticians use complex methods that go well beyond what we can cover in an introductory course. Nevertheless, we can (and will) give you a feeling for the advanced methods used by statisticians via a simple illustration in which a straightforward approach helps to locate the demand curve statistically. The problem described in this appendix occurs because demand curves and supply curves (like other curves in economics) shift from time to time. They always shift for some reason, however. As we saw in the chapter, they shift because quantity demanded or supplied is influenced by variables other than price, such as advertising, consumer incomes, and so forth. Recognizing this relationship can help us track down the demand curve—if we can determine the “other things” that affect the demand for, say, widgets, and observe when those other things changed and when they did not, we can infer when the demand curve may have been moving and when it probably wasn’t. Consider the demand for umbrellas. Umbrellas are rarely advertised and are relatively inexpensive, so neither advertising nor consumer incomes should

FIGURE 7 Legitimate Demand Curve Estimation from Statistical Data

S 08 D 2008 Price

S 01 S 2002

2006 S

2001

2007 S 04 2009 2005 S 03

2004

2003 S

D S

Quantity of Umbrellas Sold

TABLE 3 Year

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

Inches of rain

26

18

28

29

35

20

32

27

34

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Chapter 6

But the dots for those four years are quite far apart from one another. This separation means that in those years, with the demand curve in the same position, the supply curve must have been shifting. So, if we wish, we can check this supposition statistically, by observing that the supply curve can be expected to shift when there is a change in the cost of the raw materials that go into the production of umbrellas—cloth, steel for the ribs, and plastic for the handles. Changes in this cost variable can be expected to shift the supply curve but not the demand curve, because consumers do not even know these cost numbers. So, just as the rainfall data indicated in what years the demand curve probably moved and when it did not, the input price data can give us such information about the supply curve. To see this, imagine that we have a year-by-year table for those input costs similar to the table for rainfall (the cost table is not shown here); and suppose it tells us that in the four years of interest (2001, 2003, 2004, and 2008), those costs were very different from one another. We can infer that the supply curves in those years were quite different even though, as we

Demand and Elasticity

125

have just seen, the demand curve was unchanging in the same years. Accordingly, the graph shows line DD drawn close to these four dots, with their four supply curves—SS01, SS03, SS04, and SS08—also going through the corresponding points, which are the equilibrium points for those four years. We can therefore infer that all four points are close to the same demand curve and can therefore legitimately interpret DD as a valid statistical estimate of the true demand curve for those years. We derived it by recognizing as irrelevant the dots for the years with much higher or much lower rainfall amounts, in which the demand curve can be expected to have shifted, and by drawing the statistical demand curve through the relevant dots—those that, according to the data on the variables that shift the curves, were probably generated by different supply curves but a common demand curve. The actual methods used to derive statistical demand curves are far more complex. The underlying logic, however, is analogous to that of the process used in this example.

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Production, Inputs, and Cost: Building Blocks for Supply Analysis Of course, that’s only an estimate. The actual cost will be higher. AU TO M ECHANI C TO CU S TOM E R

S

uppose you take a summer job working for Al’s Building Contractors, a producer of standardized, inexpensive garages. On your first day of work, you find that Al has bought or signed contracts to buy enough lumber, electric wiring, tools, and other materials to meet his estimated needs for the next two years. The only input choice that has not been made is the number of carpenters that he will hire. So Al is left with only one decision about input purchases: How many carpenters should he sign up for his company? In this chapter, we explore this kind of decision and answer the following question: What input choice constitutes the most profitable way for a business firm to produce its output? When firms make their supply (output) decisions, they examine the likely demand for the products they create. We have already studied demand in the last two chapters, but to understand the firm’s decisions about the supply side of its markets, we must also study its production costs. A firm’s costs depend on the quantities of labor, raw materials, machinery, and other inputs that it buys and on the price it pays for each input. This chapter examines how businesses can select optimal input combinations—that is, the combinations that enable firms to produce whatever output they decide on at the minimum cost for that output. We will discuss the firm’s profit-seeking decisions about output and price in Chapter 8. To make the analysis of optimal input quantities easier to follow, we approach this task in two stages. We begin the chapter with the simpler case, in which the firm can vary the quantity of only one input while all other input quantities are already determined. This assumption vastly simplifies the analysis and enables us to answer two key questions: • How does the quantity of input affect the quantity of output? • How can the firm select the optimal quantity of an input? After that, we deal with the more realistic case where the firm simultaneously selects the quantities of several inputs. We will use the results of that analysis to deduce the firm’s cost curves that will ultimately lead us to analysis of the supply curves that play so important a role in the supply-demand mechanism that we have already discussed.1

C O N T E N T S PUZZLE: HOW CAN WE TELL IF LARGE FIRMS ARE MORE EFFICIENT?

SHORT-RUN VERSUS LONG-RUN COSTS: WHAT MAKES AN INPUT VARIABLE? The Economic Short Run versus the Economic Long Run Fixed Costs and Variable Costs

PRODUCTION, INPUT CHOICE, AND COST WITH ONE VARIABLE INPUT Total, Average, and Marginal Physical Products Marginal Physical Product and the “Law” of Diminishing Marginal Returns The Optimal Quantity of an Input and Diminishing Returns 1

MULTIPLE INPUT DECISIONS: THE CHOICE OF OPTIMAL INPUT COMBINATIONS Substitutability: The Choice of Input Proportions The Marginal Rule for Optimal Input Proportions Changes in Input Prices and Optimal Input Proportions

COST AND ITS DEPENDENCE ON OUTPUT Input Quantities and Total, Average, and Marginal Cost Curves The Law of Diminishing Marginal Productivity and the U-Shaped Average Cost Curve The Average Cost Curve in the Short and Long Run

ECONOMIES OF SCALE The “Law” of Diminishing Returns and Returns to Scale Historical Costs versus Analytical Cost Curves

PUZZLE: RESOLVING THE ECONOMIES OF SCALE PUZZLE Cost Minimization in Theory and Practice

| APPENDIX | Production Indifference Curves Characteristics of the Production Indifference Curves, or Isoquants The Choice of Input Combinations Cost Minimization, Expansion Path, and Cost Curves

Some instructors may prefer to postpone discussion of this topic until later in the course.

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PUZZLE:

HOW CAN WE TELL IF LARGE FIRMS ARE MORE EFFICIENT?

SOURCE: AT&T. Recent figures are authors’ estimates.

Annual Average Investment Cost per Telephone Circuit Mile

Modern industrial societies enjoy cost advantages as a result of automation, assembly lines, and sophisticated machinery, all of which often reduce production costs dramatically. But in industries in which equipment with such enormous capacity requires a very large investment, small companies will be unable to reap many of these benefits of modern technology. Only large firms will be able to take advantage of the associated cost savings. When firms can take advantage of such economies of scale, as economists call them, production costs per unit will decline as output expands. The relationship between large size and low costs does not always fit every industry. Sometimes the courts must decide whether a giant firm should be broken up into smaller units. The most celebrated case of this kind involved American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T), which had a monopoly over most of the phone service in F I GURE 1 the United States for nearly 50 years.2 Government agencies and analysts who urged a Historical Costs for breakup of AT&T argued that such a giant firm has great economic power and deprives Long-Distance consumers of the benefits of competition. Opponents of the breakup, including AT&T itTelephone self, pointed out that if AT&T’s large size brought significant economies of scale, then Transmissions smaller firms would be much less efficient producers than the larger one and costs to consumers would have to be correspondingly higher. Who was right? $100 Historical To settle the issue, the courts needed to cost curve know whether AT&T had significant eco75 nomies of scale. Sometimes data like those shown in 50 Figure 1 are offered to the courts when they consider such cases. The data in the 25 figure, which were provided by AT&T, indicate that as the volume of telephone 0 messages rose after 1942, the capital cost 1940 1945 1950 1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2004 of long-distance communication by telephone dropped enormously and eventuYear ally fell below 8 percent of its 1942 level. Economists maintain that this graph does Note: Figures are in dollars per year. not constitute legitimate evidence, one way or another, about the presence of economies of scale. Why do they say this? At the end of this chapter, we will study precisely what is wrong with the evidence presented in Figure 1 and consider what sort of evidence really would legitimately have determined whether AT&T had economies of scale.

SHORT-RUN VERSUS LONG-RUN COSTS: WHAT MAKES AN INPUT VARIABLE? As firms make input and output decisions, their actions are limited by previous commitments to equipment, plant, and other production matters. At any point in time, many input choices are precommitted by past decisions. If, for example, a firm purchased machinery a year ago, it has committed itself to that production decision for the remainder of the

2 AT&T is a descendant of the original Bell Telephone Company, affectionately known as “Ma Bell.” The company relinquished the use of the name “Bell” when it was forced by the courts to divest itself of its 22 regional companies in 1982. The companies were reorganized into the “Baby Bells”—seven regional phone companies called Nynex, Bell Atlantic, Ameritech, Bell-South, Southwestern Bell, USWest, and Pacific Telesis Group. In the 1990s, several of these “Baby Bells” merged once again (Bell Atlantic, for example, bough Nynex in 1996). Since then, the consolidation has continued. In 2000, Bell Atlantic bought GTE and changed its name to Verizon. Then, in 2005, Verizon acquired MCI. In the same year, Southwestern Bell (SBC Communications) bought the parent company of the “Baby Bells,” AT&T (along with Cingular), and is now known as AT&T Inc.

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Chapter 7

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Production, Inputs, and Cost: Building Blocks for Supply Analysis

machine’s economic life, unless the company is willing to take the loss involved in replacing that equipment sooner. An economist would say that these temporarily unalterable capital commitments are not variable for the time period in question. Firms that employ unionized labor forces may also incur costs that are temporarily not variable if labor contracts commit the firms to employing a certain number of employees or to using employees for a required number of weeks per year. Costs are not variable for some period if they are set by a longer-term financial commitment, such as a contract to buy a raw material, lease a warehouse, or invest in equipment that cannot be resold or transferred without substantial loss of the investment. Even if the firm has not paid for these commitments ahead of time, legally it must still pay for the contracted goods or services.

The Economic Short Run versus the Economic Long Run A two-year-old machine with a nine-year economic life can be an inescapable commitment and therefore represent a cost that is not variable for the next seven years. But that investment is not an unchangeable commitment in plans that extend beyond those seven years, because by then it may benefit the firm to replace the machine in any case. Economists summarize this notion by speaking of two different “runs” (or periods of time) for decision making: the short run and the long run. These terms recur time and again throughout this book. In the short run, firms have relatively little opportunity to change production processes so as to adopt the most efficient way of producing their current outputs, because plant sizes and other input quantities have largely been predetermined by past decisions. Managers may be able to hire more workers to work overtime and buy more supplies, but they can’t easily increase factory size, even if sales turn out to be much greater than expected. Over the long run, however, all such inputs, including plant size, become adjustable. As an example, let’s examine Al’s Building Contractors and consider the number of carpenters that it hires, the amount of lumber that it purchases, and the amounts of the other inputs that it buys. Suppose the company has signed a five-year rental contract for the warehouse space in which it stores its lumber. Ultimately—that is, in the long run—the firm may be able to reduce the amount of warehouse space to which it is committed, and if warehouse space in the area is scarce in the long run, more can be built. Once he has signed the warehouse contract, Al has relatively little immediate discretion over its capacity. Over a longer planning horizon, however, Al will need to replace the original contract, and he will be free to decide all over again how large a warehouse to rent or construct. Much the same is true of large industrial firms. Companies have little control over their plant and equipment capacities in the short run. But with some advance planning, they can acquire different types of machines, redesign factories, and make other choices. For instance, General Motors continued producing the Chevrolet Caprice and other big, rearwheel-drive cars at its plant in Arlington, Texas, for the 1995 and 1996 model years even though the vehicles were not selling well. That was partly because the company knew that it would need time to convert the plant to manufacture its popular full-size pickup trucks, which were in short supply. By the 1997 model year, however, GM engineers were able to convert the plant to truck production. Note that the short run and the long run do not refer to the same time periods for all firms; rather, those periods vary in length, depending on the nature of each firm’s commitments. If, for example, the firm can change its workforce every week, its machines every two years, and its factory every twenty years, then twenty years will be the long run, and any period less than twenty years will constitute the short run.

Fixed Costs and Variable Costs This distinction between the short run and the long run also determines which of the firm’s costs rise or fall when there is a change in the amount of output produced by the firm. Some costs cannot be varied no matter how long the period in question. These are called fixed costs, and they arise when some types of inputs can be bought only in big batches

The short run is a period of time during which some of the firm’s cost commitments will not have ended. The long run is a period of time long enough for all of the firm’s current commitments to come to an end.

A fixed cost is the cost of an input whose quantity does not rise when output goes up, one that the firm requires to produce any output at all. The total cost of such indivisible inputs does not change when the output changes. Any other cost of the firm’s operation is called a variable cost.

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Part 2

or when inputs have a large productive capacity. For example, there is no such thing as a “mini” automobile assembly line capable of producing two cars per week, and, except for extreme luxury models, it is impractical to turn out automobiles without an assembly line. For these reasons, the fixed cost of automobile manufacturing includes the cost of the smallest (least expensive) assembly line that the firm can acquire. These costs are called fixed because the total amount of money spent in buying the assembly line does not vary, whether it is used to produce 10 cars or 100 cars each day, so long as the output quantity does not exceed the assembly line’s capacity. In the short run, some other costs behave very much as fixed costs do; in other words, they are predetermined by previous decisions and are temporarily fixed. But in the long run, firms can change both their capital and labor commitments, which causes more costs to become variable. We will have more to say about fixed and variable costs as we examine other key input and cost relationships.

PRODUCTION, INPUT CHOICE, AND COST WITH ONE VARIABLE INPUT In reality, all businesses use many different inputs whose quantities must be decided. Nevertheless, we will begin our discussion with the short-run case in which there is only a single input that is variable—that is, in which the quantities of all other inputs will not be changed. In doing so, we are trying to replicate in our theoretical analysis what physicists or biologists do in the laboratory when they conduct a controlled experiment: changing just one variable at a time to enable us to see the influence of that one variable in isolation. Thus, we will study the effects of variation in the quantity of one input under the assumption that all other things remain unchanged—that is, other things being equal. TABLE 1 Total Physical Product Schedule for Al’s Building Company

(1)

(2)

Number of Carpenters

Total Product (Garages per Year)

0 1 2 3 4 5 6

0 4 12 24 32 35 30

Total, Average, and Marginal Physical Products We begin the analysis with the first of the firm’s three main questions: What is the relationship between the quantity of inputs utilized and the quantity of production? Al has studied how many of its inexpensive standardized garages his firm can turn out in a year, depending on the number of carpenters it uses. The relevant data are displayed in Table 1. The table begins by confirming the commonsense observation that garages cannot be built without labor. Thus, output is zero when Al hires zero labor input (see the first line of the table). After that, the table shows the rising total garage outputs that additional amounts of labor yield, assuming that the firm’s employees work on one garage at a time and, after it is finished, move on to the next garage. For instance, with a one-carpenter input, total output is 4 garages per year; with two carpenters helping one another and specializing in different tasks, annual output can be increased to 12 garages. After five carpenters are employed in building a garage, they begin to get in one another’s way. As a result, employment of a sixth carpenter actually reduces output from 35 to 30 garages.

Total Physical Product The data in Table 1 appear graphically in Figure 2, which is The firm’s total physical product (TPP) is the amount of output it obtains in total from a given quantity of input. The average physical product (APP) is the total physical product (TPP) divided by the quantity of input. Thus, APP 5 TPP/X, where X 5 the quantity of input.

called a total physical product (TPP) curve. This curve reports how many garages Al can produce with different quantities of carpenters, holding the quantities of all other inputs constant.

Average Physical Product To understand more about how the number of carpenters contributes to output, Al can use two other physical product relationships given in Table 2. The average physical product (APP) measures output per unit of input; it is simply the total physical product divided by the quantity of variable input used—the number of garages produced in a year per carpenter employed. For Al’s firm, it is the total number of garages produced in a year divided by the number of carpenters hired. APP is shown in column (5) of Table 2. For example, because four carpenters can turn out 32 garages annually, the APP of four carpenters is 32/4, or 8 garages per carpenter.

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Chapter 7

FIGU R E 2

TABLE 2

Total Physical Product with Different Quantities of Carpenters Used by Al’s Firm

Al’s Product Schedules: Total, Average, and Marginal Physical Product and Marginal Revenue Product

40

(1)

(2)

(3)

F

Total Output in Garages per Year

35 32 30

E

Marginal Total Physical Physical Product Product (Garages Number (Garages per of per added Carpenters year) carpenter)

G TPP D

25 20 15

C

0 1 2 3 4 5 6

10 B

5 A 0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

Quantity of Carpenters per Year

0 4 12 24 32 35 30

4 8 12 8 3 25

(4)

(5)

Marginal Revenue Product (Thousands of $ per year per added carpenter)

Average Physical Product (Garages per carpenter)

$ 60 120 180 120 45 275

0 4 6 8 8 7 5

Note: Each entry in column (3) is the difference between successive entries in column (2). This is what is indicated by the zigzag lines.

Marginal Physical Product To decide how many carpenters to hire, Al should know how many additional garages to expect from each additional carpenter.3 This concept is The marginal physical known as marginal physical product (MPP), and Al can calculate it from the total physi- product (MPP) of an input is the increase in total output cal product data using the same method we introduced to derive marginal utility from that results from a one-unit total utility in Chapter 5. For example, the marginal physical product of the fourth carpen- increase in the input quantity, ter is the total output when Al uses four carpenters minus the total output when he hires holding the amounts of all only three carpenters. That is, the MPP of the fourth carpenter 5 32 2 24 5 8 garages. We other inputs constant. calculate the other MPP entries in the third column of Table 2 in exactly the same way. Figure 3 displays these numbers in a graph called a marginal physical 14 product curve. Negative Increasing Diminishing 12

Marginal Physical Product and the “Law” of Diminishing Marginal Returns

marginal returns

marginal returns

8 6 MPP in Garages per Year

The shape of the marginal physical product curve in Figure 3 has important implications for Al’s garage building. Compare the TPP curve in Figure 2 with the MPP curve in Figure 3. The MPP curve can be described as the curve that reports the rate at which the TPP curve is changing. MPP is equal to the slope of the TPP curve4 because it tells us how much of an increase in garage output results from each additional carpenter Al hires. Thus, until input reaches three carpenters, the marginal physical product of carpenters increases when Al hires more of them. That is, TPP increases at

marginal returns

10

4 2 0 –2 –4 –6

MPP 0

1

2 3 4 5 Number of Carpenters

6

7

FI GURE 3 If you have studied any calculus, you will recognize “marginal physical product,” which is in essence the first derivative of number of garages produced with respect to number of carpenters hired. 4 The same is true of any total and marginal curves: at any output level the marginal is the slope of the total curve. For example, the slope of an individual’s total utility curve when he has five apples is the change in his total utility when he acquires a sixth apple. But that, by definition, is the marginal utility of the sixth apple. 3

Al’s Marginal Physical Product (MPP) Curve

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an increasing rate (its slope becomes steeper) between points A and D in Figure 2. Between three carpenters and five carpenters, the MPP (the slope of TPP) decreases but still has positive values throughout (that is, it lies above the horizontal axis). Consequently, in this range, TPP is still increasing (its slope, MPP, is greater than zero), but its rate of increase is slower (its slope, MPP, is still positive, but is a declining positive number). That is, in this region, between points D and F in Figure 2, each additional carpenter contributes garage output but adds less than the previous carpenter added. Beyond five carpenters, to the right of point F in Figure 2, the MPP of carpenters actually becomes negative: The total physical product curve starts to decrease as additional carpenters get in one another’s way. Figure 3 is divided into three zones to illustrate these three cases. Note that the marginal returns to additional carpenters increase at first and then diminish. This is the typical pattern, and it parallels what we said about the utility of consumption in Chapter 5. Each additional unit adds some production, but at a decreasing rate. In the leftmost zone of Figure 3 (the region of increasing marginal returns), each additional carpenter adds more to TPP than the previous one did.

IDEAS FOR BEYOND THE FINAL EXAM

The “law” of diminishing marginal returns, which has played a key role in economics for two centuries, states that an increase in the amount of any one input, holding the amounts of all others constant, ultimately leads to lower marginal returns to the expanding input.

This so-called law rests simply on observed facts; economists did not deduce the relationship analytically. Returns to a single input usually diminish because of the “law” of variable input proportions. When the quantity of one input increases while all others remain constant, the variable input whose quantity increases gradually becomes more abundant relative to the others and gradually becomes overabundant. (For example, the proportion of labor increases and the proportions of other inputs, such as lumber, decrease.) As Al uses more carpenters with fixed quantities of other inputs, the proportion of labor time to other inputs becomes unbalanced. Adding more carpenter time does little good and eventually begins to harm production. At this last point, the marginal physical product of carpenters becomes negative. Many real-world cases seem to follow the law of variable input proportions. In China, for instance, farmers have been using increasingly more fertilizer as they try to produce larger grain harvests to feed the country’s burgeoning population. Although its consumption of fertilizer is four times higher than it was 15 years ago, China’s grain output has increased by only 50 percent. This relationship certainly suggests that fertilizer use has reached the zone of diminishing returns.

The Optimal Quantity of an Input and Diminishing Returns We can now address the second question that all firms must ask as they make production decisions: How can the firm select the optimal quantity of an input? To answer this question, look again at the first and third columns of Table 2, which show the firm’s marginal physical product schedule. We will assume for now that a carpenter is paid $50,000 per year and that Al can sell his inexpensive garages for $15,000 each. Now suppose that Al is considering using just one carpenter. Is this choice optimal? Does it maximize his profits? To answer this question we have to consider not only how many garages an additional carpenter provides but also the money value of each garage; that is, we must first translate the marginal physical product into its money equivalent. In this case, the monetary evaluation of TPP shows that the answer is no, one carpenter is not enough to maximize profit, because the marginal physical product of a second carpenter is 8 garages per year, the second entry in marginal physical product column (3) of Table 2. At a price of $15,000 per garage, this extra output would add $120,000 to total revenue. Because the added revenue exceeds the $50,000 cost of the second carpenter, the firm comes out ahead by $120,000 2 $50,000, or $70,000 per year.

Marginal Revenue Product and Input Prices The additional money revenue that a firm receives when it increases the quantity of some input by one unit is called the input’s

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marginal revenue product (MRP). If Al’s garages sell at a fixed price, say $15,000, the marginal revenue product of the input equals its marginal physical product multiplied by the output price:

The marginal revenue product (MRP) of an input is the additional revenue that the producer earns from the increased sales when it uses an additional unit of the input.

Chapter 7

MRP 5 MPP 3 Price of output

For example, we have just shown that the marginal revenue product of the second carpenter is $120,000, which we obtained by multiplying the MPP of 8 garages by the price of $15,000 per garage. The other MRP entries in column (4) of Table 2 are calculated in the same way. The MRP concept enables us to formulate a simple rule for the optimal use of any input. Specifically: When the marginal revenue product of an input exceeds its price, it pays the firm to use more of that input. Similarly, when the marginal revenue product of the input is less than its price, it pays the firm to use less of that input.

Let’s test this rule in the case of Al’s garages. We have observed that two carpenters cannot be the optimal input because the MRP of a second carpenter ($120,000) exceeds his wages ($50,000). What about a third carpenter? Table 2 shows that the MRP of the third carpenter (12 3 $15,000 5 $180,000) also exceeds his wages; thus, stopping at three carpenters also is not optimal. The same is true for a fourth carpenter, because his MRP of $120,000 still exceeds his $50,000 price. The situation is different with a fifth carpenter, however. Hiring a fifth carpenter is not a good idea because his MRP, which is 3 3 $15,000 5 $45,000, is less than his $50,000 cost. Thus, the optimal number of carpenters for Al to hire is four, yielding a total output of 32 garages. Notice the crucial role of diminishing returns in this analysis. When the marginal physical product of carpenter begins to decline, the money value of that product falls as well—that is, the marginal revenue product also declines. The producer always profits by expanding input use until diminishing returns set in and reduce the MRP to the price of the input. So Al should stop increasing his carpenter purchases when MRP falls to the price of a carpenter. A common expression suggests that it does not pay to continue doing something “beyond the point of diminishing returns.” As we see from this analysis, quite to the contrary, it normally does pay to do so! The firm has employed the proper amount of input only when diminishing returns reduce the marginal revenue product of the input to the level of its price, because then the firm will be wasting no opportunity to add to its total profit. Thus, the optimal quantity of an input is that at which MRP equals its price (P). In symbols: MRP 5 P of input

The logic of this analysis is exactly the same as that used in our discussion of marginal utility and price in Chapter 5. Al is trying to maximize profits—the difference between the total revenue yielded by his carpenter input and the total cost of buying that input. To do so, he must increase his carpenter usage to the point where price equals marginal revenue product, just as an optimizing consumer keeps buying until price equals marginal utility.

MULTIPLE INPUT DECISIONS: THE CHOICE OF OPTIMAL INPUT COMBINATIONS5 Up to this point we have simplified our analysis by assuming that the firm can change the quantity of only one of its inputs and that the price the product can command does not change, no matter how large a quantity the producer offers for sale (the fixed price is $15,000 for Al’s garages). Of course, neither of these assumptions is true in reality. In Chapter 8, we will explore the effect of product quantity decisions on prices by bringing

Instructors may want to teach this part of the chapter (up to page 133) now, or they may prefer to wait until they come to Chapters 19 and 20 on the determination of wages, interest rates, profit, and rent.

5

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The “law” of diminishing marginal returns crops up a lot in ordinary life, not just in the world of business. Consider Jason and his study habits: He has a tendency to procrastinate and then cram for exams the night before he takes them, pulling “all-nighters” regularly. How might an economist describe Jason’s payoff from an additional hour of study in the wee hours of the morning, relative to that of Colin, who studies for two hours every night?

SOURCE: © PNC/Brand X Pictures/Jupiterimages

Closer to Home: The Diminishing Marginal Returns to Studying

in the demand curve. First we must deal with the obvious fact that a firm must decide on the quantities of each of the many inputs it uses, not just one input at a time. That is, Al must decide not only how many carpenters to hire but how much lumber and how many tools to buy. Both of the latter decisions clearly depend on the number of carpenters in his team. So, once again, we must examine the two basic and closely interrelated issues: production levels and optimal input quantities. But this time, we will allow the firm to select the quantities of many inputs. By expanding our analysis in this way, we can study a key issue: how a firm, by its choice of production method (also called its production technology), can make up for decreased availability of one input by using more of another input.

Substitutability: The Choice of Input Proportions Just as we found it useful to start the analysis with physical output or product in the onevariable-input case, we will start with physical production in the multiple-variable-input case. Firms can choose among alternative types of technology to produce any given product. Many people mistakenly believe that management really has very little choice when selecting its input proportions. Technological considerations alone, they believe, dictate such choices. For example, a particular type of furniture-cutting machine may require two operators working for an hour on a certain amount of wood to make five desks—no more and no less. But this way of looking at the possibilities is an overly narrow view of the matter. In reality, the furniture manufacturer can choose among several alternative production processes for making desks. For example, simpler and cheaper machines might be able to change the same pile of wood into five desks, but only by using more than two hours of labor. Or, the firm might choose to create the desks with simple hand tools, which would require many more workers and no machinery at all. The firm will seek the method of production that is least costly. In advanced industrial societies, where labor is expensive and machinery is cheap, it may pay to use the most automated process. For example, Caterpillar, a U.S. heavy-vehicle and machinery producer, curbed its high labor costs by investing in computers that enabled it to manufacture twice as many truck engines with the same number of people. However, in less developed countries, where machinery is scarce and labor is abundant, making things by hand may be the most economical solution. An interesting example can be found in rural India, where company records are often still handwritten, not computerized, as is widely true in the United States. We conclude that firms can generally substitute one input for another. A firm can produce the same number of desks with less labor, if it is prepared to sink more money into

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Chapter 7

Production, Inputs, and Cost: Building Blocks for Supply Analysis

machinery. Whether or not it pays to make such a substitution depends on the relative costs of labor and machinery. Several general conclusions follow from this discussion: • Normally, a firm can choose among different technological options to produce a particular volume of output. Technological considerations rarely fix input proportions immutably. • Given a target production level, a firm that cuts down on the use of one input (say, labor) will normally have to increase its use of another input (say, machinery). This trade-off is what we mean when we speak of substituting one input for another. • The combination of inputs that represents the least costly way to produce the desired level of output depends on the relative prices of the various inputs.

The Marginal Rule for Optimal Input Proportions Choosing the input proportions that minimize the cost of producing a given output is really a matter of common sense. To understand why, let us turn, once again, to marginal analysis of the decision. As before, Al is considering whether to buy more expensive tools that will enable him to produce his garages using fewer carpenters or to do the reverse. The two inputs, tools and carpenters, are substitutes; if the firm spends more on tools, it needs fewer carpenters. But the tools are not perfect substitutes for labor. Tools need carpenters to operate them, and tools are not endowed with the judgment and common sense that are needed if something goes wrong. Of course, a carpenter without tools is also not very productive, so Al gains a considerable benefit by acquiring balanced relative quantities of the two inputs. If he uses too much of one and too little of the other, the output of the firm will suffer. In other words, it is reasonable to assume that diminishing returns will accompany excessive substitution of either input for the other. As he substitutes more and more labor for expensive machinery, the marginal physical product of the added labor will begin to decline. How should Al decide whether to spend more on tools and less on labor, or vice versa? The obvious—and correct—answer is that he should compare what he gets for his money by spending, say, $100 more on labor or on tools. If he gets more (a greater marginal revenue product) by spending this amount on labor than by spending it on tools, clearly it pays Al to spend that money on labor rather than on tools. In that case, it pays him to spend somewhat less on tools than he had been planning to do and to transfer the money he thereby saves to purchasing more carpenter labor. So we have the following three conclusions: 1. If the marginal revenue product of the additional labor that Al gets by spending, say, a dollar more on carpenters is greater than the marginal revenue product he receives from spending the same amount on tools, he should change his plans and devote more of his spending to labor than he had planned and less to tools. 2. If the marginal revenue product of an additional dollar spent on labor is less than the marginal revenue product of an additional dollar spent on tools, Al should increase his spending on tools and cut his planned spending on labor. 3. If the marginal revenue products of an additional dollar spent on either labor or tools are the same, Al should stick to his current purchase plans. There is nothing to be gained by switching the proportions of his spending on the two inputs.6 There is only one more step. Suppose, for example, that the MRP per dollar is greater for labor than that for tools. Then, as we have just seen, Al should spend more money on labor than originally planned and less on tools. But where should this switch in spending stop? Should the transfer of funds continue until Al stops spending on tools altogether, because the MRP per dollar is greater for labor than for tools? Such an answer makes no Calculation of the marginal revenue product per dollar spent on an input is easy if we know the marginal revenue product of the input and the price of the input. For example, we know from Table 2 that the MRP of a third carpenter is $180,000 and his wage is $50,000. Thus, his MRP per dollar spent on his wages is $180,000/$50,000 5 $3.60. More generally, the MRP per dollar spent on any input, X, is the MRP of X divided by the price of X. 6

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We have just discussed how a firm can determine the most economical input combination for any given level of output. This analysis does not apply only to business enterprises. Nonprofit organizations such as your own college are interested in finding the least costly ways to accomplish a variety of tasks (for example, maintaining the grounds and buildings); government agencies (sometimes) seek to meet their objectives at minimum costs; even in the home, we can find many ways to save money. Thus, our present analysis of cost minimization is widely applicable.

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Beyond Farms and Firms: The General Rule for Optimal Input Proportions

sense—a worker without tools is not very productive. The correct answer is that, by the “law” of diminishing returns, when Al buys more and more carpenter time, the initially higher MRP of carpenters will decline. As he spends less and less on tools, tools will become scarcer and more valuable and their initially lower MRP will rise. So, as Al transfers more money from tools to carpenters, the MRPs per dollar for the inputs will get closer and closer to one another, and they will eventually meet, which is when the proportions of Al’s spending allocated to the two inputs will have reached the optimal level. At that point, there is no way he can get more for his money by changing the proportions of those inputs that he hires or buys.

Changes in Input Prices and Optimal Input Proportions The commonsense reasoning behind the rule for optimal input proportions leads to an important conclusion. Let’s say that Al is producing seven garages at minimum cost. Suppose that the wage of a carpenter falls, but the price of tools remains the same. This means that a dollar will now buy a larger quantity of labor than before, thus increasing the marginal revenue product per dollar spent on carpenters—a dollar will now buy more carpenter labor and more of its product than it did before. But because tool prices have not changed, the marginal revenue product obtainable by spending an additional dollar on tools will also be unchanged. So, if Al had previously devoted the right proportions to spending on carpenters and spending on tools, that will no longer be true. If, previously, the marginal revenue product per dollar spent on carpenters equaled the marginal revenue product per dollar spent on tools, this relationship will have changed so that Marginal revenue product per dollar spent on carpenters > Marginal revenue product per dollar spent on tools

That is, the proportion between the two inputs will no longer be optimal. Clearly, Al will be better off if he increases his spending on carpenters and reduces his spending on tools. Looked at another way, to restore optimality, the MRP per dollar spent on carpenters must fall to match the MRP per dollar spent on tools. But, by the “law” of diminishing returns, the MRP of carpenters will fall when the use of carpenters is increased. Thus, a fall in the price of carpenters prompts Al to use more carpenter time, and if the increase is

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Chapter 7

Production, Inputs, and Cost: Building Blocks for Supply Analysis

sufficiently large, it will restore equality in the marginal revenue products per dollar spent on the two inputs. In general, we have the commonsense result that As any one input becomes more costly relative to competing inputs, the firm is likely to substitute one input for another—that is, to use less of the input that has become more expensive and to use more of competing inputs.

COST AND ITS DEPENDENCE ON OUTPUT Having analyzed how the firm decides on its input quantities, we now take the next step toward our analysis of the implications for pricing and output quantity of the product it sells to consumers. For this purpose, the firm needs to know, among other things, how much it will cost to produce different output quantities. Clearly, this cost—the amount of money that the firm spends on production—will depend on how much it produces and what quantities of input it will need to do the job. How do we measure the cost relationships?

Input Quantities and Total, Average, and Marginal Cost Curves We must turn now to the third of the three main questions that a firm must ask: How do we derive the firm’s cost relationships from the input decisions that we have just explained? We will use these cost relationships when we analyze the firm’s output and pricing decisions in Chapter 8, in which we will study the last of the main components of our analysis of the market mechanism: How much of its product or service should the profitmaximizing firm produce? The most desirable output quantity for the firm clearly depends on how costs change as output varies. Economists typically display and analyze such information in the form of cost curves. Indeed, because we will use marginal analysis again in our discussion, we will need three different cost curves: the total cost curve, the average cost curve, and the marginal cost curve. These curves follow directly from the nature of production. The technological production relationships for garage-building dictate the amount of carpenter time, the type and quantity of tools, the amount of lumber, and the quantities of the other inputs that Al uses to produce any given number of garages. This technological relationship for carpenters appeared earlier in Figure 2. From these data on carpenter usage and the price of a carpenter, plus similar information on tools, lumber, and other inputs, and the decision on the optimal proportions among those inputs, Al can determine how much it will cost to produce any given number of garages. Therefore, the relevant cost relationships depend directly on the production relationships we have just discussed. The calculation of the firm’s total costs from its physical product schedule that we use here assumes that the firm cannot influence the market price of carpenters or the prices of other inputs, because these are fixed by union contracts and other such influences. Using this assumption, let us begin with the portion of the cost calculation that applies to carpenters. The method is simple: For each quantity of output, record from Table 1 or Figure 2 the number of carpenters required to produce it. Then multiply that quantity of carpenters by the assumed annual average wage of $50,000.

Total Costs In addition to the cost of carpenters, Al must spend money on his other inputs, such as tools and lumber. Furthermore, his costs must include the opportunity costs of any inputs that Al himself contributes—such as his own labor, which he could have used to earn wages by taking a job in another firm, and his own capital that he has invested in the firm, which he could have invested, say, in interest-paying government bonds. The costs of the other inputs are calculated, essentially, in the same manner as the cost of carpenters—by determining the quantity of each input that will optimally

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be used in producing any given number of garages and then multiplying that input quantity by its price. To calculate the total cost Al must cover to build, say, four garages per year, we have the following simple formula: The total cost of four garages 5 (The number of carpenters used 3 The wage per carpenter) 1 (The amount of lumber that will be used 3 The price of lumber) 1 (The number of pounds of nails that will be used 3 The price of nails) 1 . . .

Using this calculation and data such as those in Table 1, we obtain directly the total costs for different output quantities shown in Table 3. For example, row (4), column (2), of Table 3 indicates that if he wants to produce three garages per year, Al needs to purchase quantiTABLE 3 ties of labor time, lumber, and other inputs Al’s (Variable) Cost Schedules whose total cost is $54,000. The other numbers (1) (2) (3) (4) in the second column of Table 3 are interpreted Marginal similarly. To summarize the story: Total Variable Average Variable Cost Variable Total Cost (Thousands Cost Product (Thousands of $ per (Thousands (Garages of $ added of $ per per year) per year) garage) garage) 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

$0 28 44 54 62 68 75 84 100 132 178

$28 16 10 8 6 7 9 16 32 46

$0 28 22 18 15.5 13.6 12.5 12 12.5 14.7 (approx.) 17.8

The marginal product relationships enable the firm to determine the input proportions and quantities needed to produce any given output at lowest total cost. From those input quantities and the prices of the inputs, we can determine the total cost (TC) of producing any level of output. Thus, the relationship of total cost to output is determined by the technological production relationships between inputs and outputs and by input prices.

Total, Average, and Marginal Cost Curves

Two other cost curves—the average cost (AC) and marginal cost (MC) curves—provide information crucial for our analysis. We can calculate these curves directly from the total cost curve, just as Table 2 calculated average and marginal physical product from total physical product. For any given output, average cost is defined as total cost divided by quantity produced. For example, Table 3 shows that the total cost of producing seven garages is $84,000, so the average cost is $84,000/7, or $12,000 per garage. Similarly, we define the marginal cost as the increase in total cost that arises from the production of an additional garage. For example, the marginal cost of the fifth garage is the difference between the total cost of producing five garages, $68,000, and the total cost of producing four garages, $62,000; that is, the marginal cost of the fifth garage is $6,000. Figure 4 shows all three curves—the total, average, and marginal cost curves. The TC curve is generally assumed to rise fairly steadily as the firm’s output increases. After all, Al cannot expect to produce eight garages at a lower total cost than he can produce five, six, or seven garages. The AC curve and the MC curve both look roughly like the letter U—first going downhill, then gradually turning uphill again. We will explore the reason for and implications of this U-shape later in the chapter. So far, we have taken into account only the variable costs, or the costs that depend on the number of garages Al’s firm builds. That’s why these costs are labeled as “variable” in the table and the graph. But there are other costs, such as the rent Al pays for the company office, that are fixed; that is, they stay the same in total, no matter how many garages he produces, at least within some limits. Of course, Al cannot obtain these fixedcost inputs for free. Their costs, however, are constants—they are positive numbers and not zero.

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Chapter 7

Production, Inputs, and Cost: Building Blocks for Supply Analysis

Total Fixed Cost and Average Fixed Cost Curves Although variable costs are

139

Marginal Variable Cost per Added Garage (thousands $)

Average Variable Cost per Garage (thousands $)

Total Variable Cost per Year (thousands $)

FI GURE 4 only part of combined total costs (which include both fixed and variable costs), the Al’s Total Variable Cost, Average Variable total and average cost curves that include both types of costs have the same general Cost, and Marginal shape as those shown in Figure 4. In contrast, the curves that record total fixed costs Variable Cost (TFC) and average fixed costs (AFC) have very special shapes, illustrated in Figure 5. By definition, TFC remains the same whether the firm produces a little or a 200 lot—so long as it produces something. As a result, any TVC 180 Total (Variable) TFC curve is a horizontal straight line like the one 160 Cost 140 shown in Figure 5(a). It has the same height at every 120 output. 100 Average fixed cost, however, gets smaller and 80 60 smaller as output increases, because AFC (which equals 40 TFC/Q) (where Q represents quantity of output) falls as 20 output (the denominator) rises for constant TFC. Busi0 2 4 6 8 10 nesspeople typically put the point another way: Any increase in output spreads the fixed cost (which they often Quantity of Garages (a) call “overhead”) among more units, meaning that less of it is carried by any one unit. For example, suppose that Al’s firm’s total fixed cost is $12,000 per year. When 30 C he produces only two garages, the entire $12,000 of 25 fixed cost must be borne by those two garages; that is, Average (Variable) the average fixed cost is $6,000 per garage. But if Al proCost 20 AVC duces three garages, the fixed cost per garage falls to 15 $4,000 5 $12,000/3 (Table 4). D AFC can never reach zero. Even if Al were to pro10 duce one million garages per year, each garage would 5 have to bear, on average, one-millionth of the TFC— which is still a positive number (although minuscule). 2 4 6 8 10 0 It follows that the AFC curve gets lower and lower as Quantity of Garages output increases, moving closer and closer to the hori(b) zontal axis but never crossing it. This pattern appears in Figure 5(b). Finally, we may note that marginal fixed costs MVC 50 exhibit a very simple behavior: Marginal fixed costs are 45 always zero. Building an additional garage does not 40 add a penny to Al’s annual office rent, which is 35 30 fixed at $12,000, according to the lease. Looked at Marginal (Variable) 25 Cost another way, because the total fixed cost stays 20 unchanged at $12,000, no matter how many garages 15 10 are produced, the marginal fixed cost of, say, a fifth 5 garage is the total fixed cost of five garages minus 2 4 6 8 10 0 the total fixed cost of four garages 5 $12,000 2 $12,000 5 0. Quantity of Garages (c) Having divided costs into fixed costs (FC) and variable costs (VC), we can express corresponding rules for Note: Quantity is in garages per year. total average and marginal costs: TC 5 TFC + TVC AC 5 AFC + AVC MC 5 MFC + MVC 5 0 + MVC 5 MVC

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F I GURE 5

TABLE 4

Fixed Costs: Total and Average

Al’s Fixed Costs

14

(1)

(2)

Number of Garages

Total Fixed Cost (Thousands of $ per year)

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

$ 12 12 12 12 12 12 12 12 12 12 12

Total Fixed Cost per Year (thousands of $)

TFC 12 10 8 6 4 2 0

1

2

3

4

5 6 Output (a)

7

8

9

10

Average Fixed Cost per Garage (thousands of $)

14

(3)

(4)

Marginal Fixed Cost

Average Fixed Cost (Thousands of $ per garage)

$0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

— $ 12 6 4 3 2.4 2 1.7 1.5 1.33 1.2

12 10 8

The Law of Diminishing Marginal Productivity and the U-Shaped Average Cost Curve

6 4

0

The preceding discussion of fixed and variable costs enables us to consider the configuration of the average cost curve and the production implications of its typical 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Output U-shape. The typical curve looks like Figure 4(b) and is (b) roughly U-shaped: The left-hand portion of the curve is downward-sloping and the right-hand portion is upwardsloping. AC declines when output increases in the lefthand portion of the curve for two reasons. The first reason makes intuitive sense and pertains to the fixed-cost portion of AC and the fact that these fixed costs are divided over more units of product as output increases. As Figure 5(b) shows, the average fixed-cost curve always falls as output increases, and it falls very sharply at the left-hand end of the AFC curve. Because AC equals AFC plus average variable costs (AVC), the AC curve for virtually any product contains a fixed-cost portion, AFC, which falls steeply at first when output increases. So, as these fixed costs are spread over more units as output increases, the AC curve for any product should have a downward-sloping portion such as CD in Figure 4(b), which is characterized by decreasing average cost. The second reason why AC curves have a downward-sloping section relates to changing input proportions. As the firm increases the quantity of one input while holding other inputs constant, the marginal physical product relationship tells us that MPP will first rise. As a result, average costs will decrease. For example, if Al is using very few carpenters relative to the amounts of other inputs, a rise in the quantity of carpenters will, at first, yield increasing additions to output (in the range of increasing marginal physical product of carpenters illustrated in the left-hand part of Figure 3). As the quantity produced increases, the average cost of output falls. Now look at any point to the right of point D in Figure 4(b). Average cost rises as output increases along this section of the curve. Why does the portion of the curve with decreasing AC end? Although it may not seem very important in our example, increasing administrative costs are a major source of increasing average cost in practice. AFC

2 1

2

3

NOTE: Output is in garages per year.

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Sheer size makes firms more complicated to run. Large firms tend to be relatively bureaucratic, impersonal, and costly to manage. As a firm becomes very large and loses top management’s personal touch, bureaucratic costs ultimately rise disproportionately. Typically, this change ultimately drives average cost upward. The output at which average costs stop decreasing and begin to rise varies from industry to industry. Other things being equal, the greater the relative size of fixed costs, the higher the output at which the switch-over occurs.7 For example, it occurs at a much larger volume of output in automobile production than in farming, which is why no farms are as big as even the smallest auto producer. Automobile producers must be larger than farms because the fixed costs of automobile production are far greater than those in farming, so spreading the fixed cost over an increasing number of units of output keeps AC falling far longer in auto production than in farming. Thus, although firms in both industries may have U-shaped AC curves, the bottom of the U occurs at a far larger output in auto production than in farming. The AC curve for a typical firm is U-shaped. We can attribute its downward-sloping segment to increasing marginal physical products and to the fact that the firm spreads its fixed costs over ever-larger quantities of outputs. Similarly, we can attribute the upwardsloping segment primarily to the disproportionate rise in administrative costs that occurs as firms grow large.

The Average Cost Curve in the Short and Long Run At the beginning of this chapter, we observed that some inputs are variable and some are precommitted, depending on the pertinent time horizon. It follows that The average (and marginal and total) cost curve depends on the firm’s planning horizon— how far into the future it tries to look when making its plans. The average (and total) cost curve for the long run differs from that for the short run because, in the long run, input quantities generally become variable.

Average Cost per Pound of Chicken

We can, in fact, be much more specific about the relationships between the short-run and long-run average cost curves. Consider, as an example, the capacity of Naomi’s poultry farm. In the short run, she can choose to raise, at most, only the number of chickens that she can crowd into her coops’ current capacity. Of course, she can always build more chicken coops; however, FIGURE 6 if it turns out that the coops are much larger than she needs, Short-Run and Long-Run Average Cost Curves Naomi cannot simply undo the excessive space and get back the money that she has spent on it. But, in the long run, when they need to be replaced, she can choose among new coops of different sizes. If she constructs a smaller coop, Naomi’s AC curve looks like curve SL in Figure 6. That means that if she is pleasantly S surprised as sales grow to 100 pounds of chicken per week, average cost will be $0.40 per pound of chicken (point V). She L U B V may then wish she had built bigger coops with an AC curve of $0.40 0.35 T BG, which would have enabled her to cut the cost per pound W of chicken to $0.35 (point W). In the short run, though, Naomi can do nothing about this decision; the AC curve remains SL. 0 40 100 Similarly, had she built the larger coops, the short-run AC curve would be BG, and the farm would be committed to this Output in Pounds of Chicken cost curve even if her sales were to decline sharply.

Empirical evidence confirms this view, although it suggests that the bottom of the U is often long and flat. That is to say, a considerable range of outputs often fall between the regions of decreasing and increasing average cost. In this intermediate region, the AC curve is approximately horizontal, meaning that, in this range, AC does not change when output increases.

7

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In the long run, however, Naomi must replace the coops, and she is free to decide their size all over again. If Naomi expects sales of 100 pounds of chicken per week, she will construct larger coops and have an average cost of $0.35 per pound of chicken (point W). If she expects sales of only 40 pounds of chicken per week, she will arrange for smaller buildings with an average cost of $0.40 per pound of chicken (point U). In sum, in the long run, a firm will select the plant size (that is, the short-run AC curve) that is most economical for the output level that it expects to produce. The longrun average cost curve therefore consists of all of the lower segments of the short-run AC curves. In Figure 6, this composite curve is the brick-colored curve, STG. The long-run average cost curve shows the lowest possible short-run average cost corresponding to each output level.

ECONOMIES OF SCALE

Production is said to involve economies of scale, also referred to as increasing returns to scale, if, when all input quantities are increased by X percent, the quantity of output rises by more than X percent.

We have now put together the basic tools we need to address the question posed at the beginning of this chapter: Does a large firm benefit from substantial economies of scale that allow it to operate more efficiently than smaller firms? To answer this question, we need a precise definition of this concept. An enterprise’s scale of operation arises from the quantities of the various inputs that it uses. Consider what happens when the firm doubles its scale of operations. For example, suppose Al’s garage-building firm were to double the number of carpenters, the amount of lumber, the number of tools, and the quantity of every other input that it uses. Suppose as a result that the number of garages built per year increased from 12 to 26; that is, output more than doubled. Because output goes up by a greater percentage than the increase in each of the inputs, Al’s production is said to be characterized by increasing returns to scale (or economies of scale), at least in this range of input and output quantities. Economies of scale affect operations in many modern industries. Where they exist, they give larger firms cost advantages over smaller ones and thereby foster large firm sizes. Automobile production and telecommunications are two common examples of industries that enjoy significant economies of scale. Predictably, firms in these industries are, indeed, huge. Technology generally determines whether a specific economic activity is characterized by economies of scale. One particularly clear example of a way in which this can happen is provided by warehouse space. Imagine two warehouses, each shaped like a perfect cube, where the length, width, and height of Warehouse 2 are twice as large as the corresponding measurements for Warehouse 1. Now remember your high school geometry. The surface area of any side of a cube is equal to the square of its length. Therefore, the amount of material needed to build Warehouse 2 will be 22, or four times as great as that needed for Warehouse 1. However, because the volume of a cube is equal to the cube of its length, Warehouse 2 will have 23, or eight times, as much storage space as Warehouse 1. Thus, in a cubic building, multiplying the input quantities by 4 leads to eight times the storage space—an example of strongly increasing returns to scale. This example is, of course, oversimplified. It omits such complications as the need for stronger supports in taller buildings, the increased difficulty of moving goods in and out of taller buildings, and the like. Still, the basic idea is correct, and the example shows why, up to a point, the very nature of warehousing creates technological relationships that lead to economies of scale. Our definition of economies of scale, although based on the type of production, relates closely to the shape of the long-run average cost curve. Notice that the definition requires that a doubling of every input must bring about more than a doubling of output. If all input quantities are doubled, total cost must double, but if output more than doubles when

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Chapter 7

input quantities are doubled, then cost per unit (average cost) must decline when output increases. In other words: Production relationships with economies of scale lead to long-run average cost curves that decline as output expands.

Figure 7(a) depicts a decreasing average cost curve but shows only one of three possible shapes that the long-run average cost curve can take. Figure 7(b) shows the curve for constant returns to scale. Here, if all input quantities double, both total cost (TC) and the quantity of output (Q) double, so average cost (AC 5 TC/Q) remains constant. There is also a third possibility. Output may also increase, but less than double, when all inputs double. This case of decreasing returns to scale leads to a rising long-run average cost curve like the one depicted in Figure 7(c). The figure reveals a close association between the slope of the AC curve and the nature of the firm’s returns to scale. Note that the same production function can display increasing returns to scale in some ranges, constant returns to scale in other ranges, and decreasing returns to scale in yet others. This is true of all the U-shaped average cost curves we have discussed, as shown in Figure 4(b).

The “Law” of Diminishing Returns and Returns to Scale Earlier in this chapter, we discussed the “law” of diminishing marginal returns. Is there any relationship between economies of scale and the phenomenon of diminishing returns? At first, the two ideas may seem contradictory. After all, if a producer gets diminishing returns from her inputs as she uses more of each of them, doesn’t it follow that by using more of every input, she must encounter decreasing returns to scale? In fact, the two principles do not contradict one another, for they deal with fundamentally different issues. • Returns to a single input. This asks the question, How much does output expand if a firm increases the quantity of just one input, holding all other input quantities unchanged? • Returns to scale. Here the question is, How much does output expand if all inputs are increased simultaneously by the same percentage?

AC

Quantity of Output (a)

Constant returns to scale

AC

Quantity of Output (b)

Long-Run Average Cost

Increasing returns to scale

Long-Run Average Cost

Long-Run Average Cost

The “law” of diminishing returns pertains to the first question, because it examines the effects of increasing only one input at a time. It is plausible that the firm will encounter diminishing returns as this one input becomes relatively overabundant as compared to the quantities of the firm’s other inputs. Thus, for example, the addition of too much carpenter time relative to a given quantity of lumber will contribute relatively little to total garage production, yielding diminishing returns. To get the most benefit out of the hiring of an additional carpenter, the firm needs to acquire more tools and raw materials.

FI GURE 7 Three Possible Shapes for the Long-Run Average Cost Curve

Decreasing returns to scale

AC

Quantity of Output (c)

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Returns to scale pertain to proportionate increases in all inputs and therefore answer the second question. If Al doubles carpenter time and all other inputs as well, the carpenters need not become redundant. However, increasing the amount of one input without expanding any other inputs clearly threatens redundancy of the expanded item, even in a factory where simultaneous expansion of all inputs will lead to a very big jump in output. Thus, the “law” of diminishing returns (to a single input) is compatible with any sort of returns to scale. In summary: Returns to scale and returns to a single input (holding all other inputs constant) refer to two distinct aspects of a firm’s technology. A production function that displays diminishing returns to a single input may show diminishing, constant, or increasing returns when all input quantities are increased proportionately.

Historical Costs versus Analytical Cost Curves In Chapter 5, we noted that all points on a demand curve pertain to the same period of time. Decision makers must use this common time period for the analysis of an optimal decision for a given period, because the demand curve describes the alternative choices available for the period of time to which the decision will apply. The same is true of a cost curve. All points on a cost curve pertain to exactly the same time period, because the graph examines the cost of each alternative output level that the firm can choose for that period, thus providing the information needed to compare the alternatives and their consequences and thereby to make an optimal decision for that period. It follows that a graph of historical data on prices and quantities at different points in time is normally not the cost curve that the decision maker needs. This observation will help us resolve the problem posed at the beginning of the chapter, which raised the question whether declining historical costs were evidence of economies of scale as information needed to decide on the optimal size of the firm in question. All points on any of the cost curves used in economic analysis refer to the same period of time.

One point on an auto manufacturer’s cost curve may show, for example, how much it would cost the firm to produce 2.5 million cars during 2011. Another point on the same curve may show what would happen to the firm’s costs if, instead, it were to produce 3 million cars in that same year. Such a curve is called an analytical cost curve or, when there is no possibility of confusion, simply a cost curve. This curve must be distinguished from a diagram of historical costs, which shows how costs have changed from year to year. The different points on an analytical cost curve represent alternative possibilities, all for the same time period. In 2011, the car manufacturer will produce either 2.5 million or 3 million cars (or some other amount), but certainly not both. Thus, at most, only one point on this cost curve will ever be observed. The company may, indeed, produce 2.5 million cars in 2011 and 3 million cars in 2012, but the 2012 data are not relevant to the 2011 cost curve that is used to analyze the 2011 output decision. By the time 2012 comes around, the cost curve may have shifted, so the 2012 cost figure will not apply to the 2011 cost curve. A different sort of graph can, of course, indicate year by year how costs and outputs vary. Such a graph, which gathers together the statistics for a number of different periods, is not, however, a cost curve as defined by economists. An example of such a diagram of historical costs appeared in Figure 1. Why do economists rarely use historical cost diagrams and instead deal primarily with analytical cost curves, which are more abstract, more challenging to explain, and more difficult to estimate statistically? The answer is that analysis of real policy problems—such as the desirability of having a single supplier of telephone services for the entire market—leaves no choice in the matter. Rational decisions require analytical cost curves. Let’s see why.

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PUZZLE:R

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Chapter 7

RESOLVING THE ECONOMIES OF SCALE PUZZLE

Recall the problem that we introduced early in the chapter. We examined the divestiture of AT&T’s components and concluded that, to determine whether it made sense to break up such a large company, economists would have to know whether the industry provided economies of scale. Among the data offered as evidence was a graph that showed a precipitous drop in the capital cost of long-distance communications as the volume of calls rose after 1942. But we did not answer a more pertinent question: Why didn’t this information constitute legitimate evidence about the presence or absence of economies of scale? It all boils down to the following: To determine whether a single large firm can provide telephone service more cheaply in, say, 2007 than a number of smaller firms can, we must compare the costs of both large-scale and small-scale production in 2007. It does no good to compare the cost of a large supplier in 2007 with its own costs as a smaller firm back in 1942, because that cannot possibly provide the needed information. The cost situation in 1942 is irrelevant for today’s decision between large and small suppliers, because no small firm today would use the obsolete techniques employed in 1942. Since the 1940s, great technical progress has taken the telephone industry from ordinary open-wire circuits to microwave systems, telecommunications satellites, coaxial cables of enormous capacity, and fiber optics. As a result, the entire analytical cost curve of telecommunications must have shifted downward quite dramatically from year to year. Innovation must have reduced not only the cost of large-scale operations but also the cost of smaller-scale operations. Until decision makers compare the costs of large and small suppliers today, they cannot make a rational choice between single-firm and multifirm production. It is the analytical cost curve, all of whose points refer to the same period, that, by definition, supplies this information. Figures 8 and 9 show two extreme hypothetical cases: one that entails true economies of scale and one that does not. Both are based on the same historical cost data (in black) with their very sharply declining costs. (This curve is reproduced from Figure 1.) They also show (in brick and blue) two possible average cost (AC) curves, one for 1942 and one for 2007. In Figure 8, the analytical AC curve has shifted downward very sharply from 1942 to 2007, as technological change reduced all costs. Moreover, both of the AC curves slope downward to the right, meaning that, in either year, a larger firm has lower average costs. Thus, the situation shown in Figure 8 really does entail scale economies, so that one large firm can serve the market at lower cost than many small ones. Now look at Figure 9, which shows exactly the same historical costs as Figure 8. Here, however, both analytical AC curves are U-shaped. In particular, the 2007 AC curve has its minimum point at an output level, A, that is less than one-half of the current output, B, of the large supplier. Thus, the shape of the analytical cost curves does not show economies of scale. This means that, for the situation shown in Figure 9, a smaller company can produce more cheaply than a large one can. In this case, one cannot justify

Cost per Unit

FI GUR E 8 $100 75

A

1942 analytical cost curve

50 25

Declining Historical Cost Curve with the Analytical Average Cost Curve Also Declining in Each Year

Historical cost curve

2007 analytical cost curve B

0 Quantity of Output

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F I GURE 9 $100 Cost per Unit

Declining Historical Cost Curve with U-Shaped Analytical Cost Curves in Each Year

75 50 25

1942 analytical cost curve Historical cost curve 2007 analytical cost curve

B A

0 Quantity of Output

domination of the market by a single large firm on the grounds that its costs are lower— despite the sharp downward trend of historical costs. In sum, the behavior of historical costs reveals nothing about the cost advantages or disadvantages of a single large firm. More generally: Because a diagram of historical costs does not compare the costs of large and small firms at the same point in time, it cannot be used to determine whether an industry provides economies of large-scale production. Only the analytical cost curve can supply this information.

In the case of telephone service, some estimates indicate that economies of largescale production do indeed exist. Presumably because of this influence, 20 years after the Bell telephone system’s breakup, the typical firm providing traditional longdistance telephone service is still very large, with AT&T and Verizon dominating the industry. Yet half a dozen or so other smaller firms still compete in this arena. It is perhaps ironic that a substantial proportion of the “Baby Bell” local telephone companies that were pulled away from AT&T by the courts in 1982 have recombined in order to obtain cost and other advantages of larger size. Cellular and Internet-based longdistance service has also gained ground at a rapid pace.

Cost Minimization in Theory and Practice Lest you be tempted to run out and open a business, confident that you now understand how to minimize costs, we should point out that business decisions are a good deal more complicated than we have indicated here. Rare is the business executive who knows for sure the exact shapes of marginal physical product schedules, or the precise nature of cost curves. No one can provide an instruction book for instant success in business. What we have presented here is, instead, a set of principles that constitutes a guide to the logic of good decision making. Business management has been described as the art of making critical decisions on the basis of inadequate information, and our complex and ever-changing world often leaves people no alternative but to make educated guesses. Actual business decisions will at best approximate the cost-minimizing ideal outlined in this chapter. Certainly, practicing managers will make mistakes, but when they do their jobs well and the market system functions smoothly, the approximation may prove amazingly good. Although no system is perfect, inducing firms to produce the output they select at the lowest possible cost is undoubtedly one of the jobs the market system does best. Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

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P OLICY D E B AT E

Should Water Be Provided to Western Farmers at Subsidized Prices? increase now would be tantamount to confiscating their investments. Recent small price increases for water have, in fact, encouraged farmers to utilize water-saving methods such as drip irrigation, with some farmers now eager to sell their resulting surplus water to California cities. State water authorities are working toward creating a market for farmers, cities, and private businesses to buy and sell water. This shows how higher prices can sometimes benefit society, but it also illustrates how it can raise issues of fairness to some of the persons affected.

SOURCE: © Bob Rowan; Progressive Image/CORBIS

Farmers in the western United States use a great deal of water. Because most of the area’s climate is high desert, agriculture there requires artificial irrigation—indeed, water is critical. In California, for example, farmers use 30 million acre-feet of water a year (almost 10 trillion gallons) to irrigate their crops—about 80 percent of that state’s developed water supply. Yet western farmers and ranchers have traditionally paid very low prices for the water they use. Government controls have kept the price of water used for agriculture artificially low, so California farmers pay only a small fraction of the price that urban residents pay for water. Even during droughts, farmers in that state continued to use vast quantities of water, while residents in the cities were forced to ration. This situation has given rise to an intense debate between farmers and environmentalists. There is no question that water is scarce in the western states, exacerbated by an increase in population, leading to predictions of a looming shortage of disastrous proportions. It is also clear that farmers pay a price that is much lower than the true marginal cost of water, particularly because that cost includes a very high opportunity cost—that is, the value of the other uses of water that must be forgone as a result of its extensive employment in agriculture. As analysis in this chapter shows, a low price for an input increases the amount that producers use, and there is little doubt that the low price of water substantially increases its consumption by western farmers. Environmentalists and economists have joined forces in arguing that western water users should pay prices that cover its true marginal cost. Indeed, it has been suggested that at such a price any shortage would simply disappear. But the farmers argue that long practice entitles them to continued low water prices and that low prices in the past induced them to invest extensively in their agricultural properties, so that a price

SOURCES: Dean E. Murphy, “Water Contract Renewals Stir Debate Between Environmentalists and Farmers in California,” The New York Times, December 15, 2004, p. A.22; James Flanigan, “Creating a Free-Flowing Market to Buy, Sell Water,” Los Angeles Times, October 24, 2001, http://www.latimes.com; “California’s Economy: The Real Trouble,” The Economist, July 28, 2001, p. 31; and California Department of Water Resources, http://www.owue.water.ca.gov.

| SUMMARY | 1. A firm’s total cost curve shows its lowest possible cost of producing any given quantity of output. This curve is derived from the input combination that the firm uses to produce any given output and the prices of the inputs.

5. Average and marginal variable cost curves tend to be U-shaped, meaning that these costs decline up to a certain level of output and then begin to rise again at larger output quantities.

2. The marginal physical product (MPP) of an input is the increase in total output resulting from a one-unit increase in that input, holding the quantities of all other inputs constant.

6. The long run is a period sufficiently long for the firm’s plant to require replacement and for all of its current contractual commitments to expire. The short run is any period briefer than the long run.

3. The ”law” of diminishing marginal returns states that if a firm increases the amount of one input (holding all other input quantities constant), the marginal physical product of the expanding input will eventually begin to decline.

7. Fixed costs are costs whose total amounts do not vary when output increases. All other costs are called variable costs. Some costs are variable in the long run but not in the short run.

4. To maximize profits, a firm must purchase an input up to the point at which diminishing returns reduce the input’s marginal revenue product (MRP) to equal its price (P 5 MRP 5 MPP 3 price).

8. At all levels of output, the total fixed cost (TFC) curve is horizontal and the average fixed cost (AFC) curve declines toward the horizontal axis but never crosses it.

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9. TC 5 TFC + TVC; AC 5 AFC + AVC; MFC 5 0. 10. It is usually possible to produce the same quantity of output in a variety of ways by substituting more of one input for less of another input. Firms normally seek the combination of inputs that offers the least costly way to produce any given output. 11. A firm that wants to minimize costs will select input quantities at which the ratios of the marginal revenue product of each input to the input’s price—its MRP per dollar—are equal for all inputs. 12. If a doubling of all the firm’s inputs just doubles its output, the firm is said to have constant returns to scale. If a

doubling of all inputs leads to more than twice as much output, it has increasing returns to scale (or economies of scale). If a doubling of inputs produces less than a doubling of output, the firm has decreasing returns to scale. 13. With increasing returns to scale, the firm’s long-run average costs are decreasing; constant returns to scale are associated with constant long-run average costs; decreasing returns to scale are associated with increasing long-run average costs. 14. Economists cannot tell if an industry offers economies of scale (increasing returns to scale) simply by inspecting a diagram of historical cost data. Only the underlying analytical cost curve can supply this information.

| KEY TERMS | average physical product (APP) 130 economies of scale (increasing returns to scale) 142 fixed cost long run

129 129

marginal physical product (MPP) 131

total physical product (TPP) variable cost

130

129

marginal revenue product (MRP) 133 short run

129

| TEST YOURSELF | 1. A firm’s total fixed cost is $360,000. Construct a table of its total and average fixed costs for output levels varying from zero to 6 units. Draw the corresponding TFC and AFC curves. 2. With the following data, calculate the firm’s AVC and MVC and draw the graphs for TVC, AVC, and MVC. Why is MVC the same as MC? Total Quantity Variable Costs 1 2 3 4 5 6

$40,000 80,000 120,000 176,000 240,000 360,000

3. From the data in Test Yourself Questions 1 and 2, calculate TC and AC for each of the output levels from 1 to 6 units and draw the two graphs. 4. If a firm’s commitments in 2008 include machinery that will need replacement in 5 years, a factory building rented for 12 years, and a 3-year union contract specifying how many workers it must employ, when, from its point of view in 2008, does the firm’s long run begin? 5. If the marginal revenue product of a gallon of oil used as input by a firm is $2.20 and the price of oil is $2.07 per gallon, what can the firm do to increase its profits?

6. A firm hires two workers and rents 15 acres of land for a season. It produces 150,000 bushels of crop. If it had doubled its land and labor, production would have been 325,000 bushels. Does it have constant, decreasing, or increasing returns to scale? 7. Suppose that wages are $20,000 per season per person and land rent per acre is $3,000. Calculate the average cost of 150,000 bushels and the average cost of 325,000 bushels, using the figures in Test Yourself Question 6. (Note that average costs increase when output increases.) What connection do these figures have with the firm’s returns to scale? 8. Naomi has stockpiled a great deal of chicken feed. Suppose now that she buys more chicks, but not more chicken feed, and divides the feed she has evenly among the larger number of chickens. What is likely to happen to the marginal physical product of feed? What, therefore, is the role of input proportions in the determination of marginal physical product? 9. Labor costs $12 per hour. Nine workers produce 180 bushels of product per hour, whereas 10 workers produce 196 bushels. Land rents for $1,200 per acre per year. With 10 acres worked by nine workers, the marginal physical product of an acre of land is 1,400 bushels per year. Does the farmer minimize costs by hiring nine workers and renting 10 acres of land? If not, which input should he use in larger relative quantity? 10. Suppose that Al’s total costs increase by $5,000 per year at every output level. Show in Table 2 how this change affects his total and average costs.

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| DISCUSSION QUESTION | 1. A firm experiences a sudden increase in the demand for its product. In the short run, it must operate longer hours and pay higher overtime wage rates to satisfy this new demand. In the long run, the firm can install more machines instead of operating fewer machines for longer hours. Which do you think will be lower, the

short-run or the long-run average cost of the increased output? How is your answer affected by the fact that the long-run average cost includes the new machines the firm buys, whereas the short-run average cost includes no machine purchases?

| APPENDIX | Production Indifference Curves

A production indifference curve (sometimes called an isoquant) is a curve showing all the different quantities of two inputs that are just sufficient to produce a given quantity of output.

Figure 10 represents different quantities of labor and capital capable of producing given amounts of wheat. The figure shows three indifference curves: one for the production of 220,000 bushels of wheat, one for 240,000 bushels, and one for 260,000 bushels. The indifference curve labeled 220,000 bushels indicates that a farm can generate an output of 220,000 bushels of wheat using any one of the combinations of inputs represented by points on that curve. For example, it can employ 10 years of labor and 200 acres of land (point A) or the labor–land combination shown by point B on the same curve. Because it lies considerably below and to the right of point B, point A represents a productive process that uses more labor and less land. Points A and B can be considered technologically indifferent because each represents a bundle of inputs just capable of yielding the same quantity of finished goods. However, “indifference” in this sense does not mean that the producer will be unable to decide between input combinations A and B. Input prices will permit the producer to arrive at a decision. The production indifference curves in a diagram such as Figure 10 show for each combination of inputs how much output can be produced. Because production indifference curves are drawn in two dimensions, they represent only two inputs at a time. In more realistic situations, firms are likely to need more than two inputs,

FIGURE 10 A Production Indifference Map

Quantity of Land in Acres

To describe a production function—that is, the relationship between input combinations and the size of a firm’s total output—economists use a graphic device called the production indifference curve. Each indifference curve indicates all combinations of input quantities just capable of producing a given quantity of output; thus, a separate indifference curve corresponds to each possible quantity of output. These production indifference curves are perfectly analogous to the consumer indifference curves discussed in the appendix to Chapter 5.

B

600

D

400 200

260,000 bushels A

C

E 0

3

5

7

240,000 bushels 220,000 bushels

10

Quantity of Labor in Years

so, to study the subject, economists must conduct an algebraic analysis. Even so, all the principles we need to analyze such a situation can be derived from the twovariable case.

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE PRODUCTION INDIFFERENCE CURVES, OR ISOQUANTS Before discussing input pricing and quantity decisions, we first examine what is known about the shapes of production indifference curves. Characteristic 1: Higher curves correspond to larger outputs. Points on a higher indifference curve represent larger quantities of both inputs than the corresponding points on a lower curve. Thus, a higher curve represents a larger output. Characteristic 2: An indifference curve will generally have a negative slope. It goes downhill as we move toward the right. Thus, if a firm reduces the quantity of one input, and if it does not want to cut production, it must use more of another input.

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Characteristic 3: An indifference curve is typically assumed to curve inward toward the origin near its middle. This shape reflects the “law” of diminishing returns to a single input. For example, in Figure 10, points B, D, and A represent three different input combinations capable of producing the same quantity of output. At point B, the firm uses a large amount of land and relatively little labor, whereas the opposite is true at point A. Point D is intermediate between the two.

Now consider the choice among these input combinations. When the farmer considers moving from point B to point D, he gives up 200 acres of land and instead hires 2 additional years of labor. Similarly, the move from D to A involves giving up another 200 acres of land. This time, however, hiring an additional 2 years of labor does not make up for the reduced use of land. Diminishing returns to labor as the farmer hires more and more workers to replace more and more land means that the farm now needs a much larger quantity of additional labor—5 person-years rather than 2—to make up for the reduction in the use of land. Without such diminishing returns, the indifference curve would have been a straight line, DE. The curvature of the indifference curve through points D and A reflects diminishing returns to substitution of inputs.

THE CHOICE OF INPUT COMBINATIONS A production indifference curve describes only the input combinations that can produce a given output; it indicates just what is technologically possible. To decide which of the available options suits its purposes best, a business needs the corresponding cost information: the relative prices of the inputs. The budget line in Figure 11 represents all equally costly input combinations for a firm. For example, if farmhands are paid $9,000 per year and land rents for $1,000 per acre per year, then a farmer who spends $360,000 can hire 40 farmhands but rent no land (point K), or he can rent 360 acres but have no money left for farmhands (point J). It is undoubtedly more sensible to pick some intermediate point on his budget line at which he divides the $360,000 between the two inputs. The slope of the budget line represents the amount of land the farmer must give up if he wants to hire one more worker without increasing his budget. A budget line is the locus of all points representing every input combination of inputs that the producer can afford to buy with a given amount of money and given input prices.

If the prices of the inputs do not change, then the slope of the budget line will not change anywhere in the graph. It will be the same at every point on a given

FIGURE 11 A Budget Line

Quantity of Land in Acres

150

360 J

K 40 Number of Workers

budget line, and it will be the same on the $360,000 budget line as on the $400,000 budget line or on the budget line for any other level of spending. For if the price of hiring a worker is nine times as high as the cost of renting an acre, then the farmer must rent nine fewer acres to hire an additional farmhand without changing the total amount of money he spends on these inputs. Thus, the slope will be acres given up per added farmhand 5 29/1 5 29. With the input prices given, the slope of any budget line does not change and the slopes of the different budget lines for different amounts of expenditures are all the same. Two results follow: (1) The budget lines are straight lines because their slopes remain the same throughout their length, and (2) because they all have the same slope, the budget lines in the graph will all be parallel, as in Figure 12. A firm that is seeking to minimize costs does not necessarily have a fixed budget. Instead, it wants to produce a given quantity of output (say, 240,000 bushels) with the smallest possible budget. Figure 12 combines the indifference curve for 240,000 bushels from Figure 10 with a variety of budget lines similar to JK in Figure 11. The firm’s task is to find the lowest budget line that will allow it to reach the 240,000-bushel indifference curve. Clearly, an expenditure of $270,000 is too little; no point on the budget line, AB, permits production of 240,000 bushels. Similarly, an expenditure of $450,000 is too much, because the firm can produce its target level of output more cheaply. The solution is at point T where the farmer uses 15 workers and 225 acres of land to produce the 240,000 bushels of wheat. That budget line, the one that is tangent to the relevant indifference curve, is evidently the lowest budget line that meets

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Chapter 7

FIGURE 12

FIGURE 13

Cost Minimization

The Firm’s Expansion Path

B'

360

J

Quantity of Land in Acres

Quantity of Land in Acres

450

$450,000 270 A T

225

$360,000

E S'

B T

B 30

K 40

300,000 bushels

S

240,000 bushels

$270,000

15

J

E

240,000 bushels 200,000 bushels $270,000

50

0

10 15

B

K

B'

Number of Workers

Number of Workers

the indifference curve anywhere, so it represents the lowest-cost input combination capable of producing the desired output. In general: The least costly way to produce any given level of output is indicated by the point of tangency between a budget line and the production indifference curve corresponding to that level of output.

COST MINIMIZATION, EXPANSION PATH, AND COST CURVES Figure 12 shows how to determine the input combination that minimizes the cost of producing 240,000 bushels of output. The farmer can repeat this procedure exactly for any other output quantity, such as 200,000 bushels or 300,000 bushels. In each case, we draw the corresponding production indifference curve and find the lowest budget line that permits the farm to produce that much. For example, in Figure 13, budget line BB is tangent to the indifference curve for 200,000 units of output; similarly, budget line JK is tangent to the indifference curve for 240,000 bushels; and budget line B’B’ is tangent to the indifference curve for 300,000 units of output. This gives us three tangency points: S, which gives the input combination that produces a 200,000-bushel output at lowest cost; T, which gives the same information for a 240,000-bushel output; and S’, which indicates the cost-minimizing input combination for the production of 300,000 bushels. This process can be repeated for as many other levels of output as we like. For each such output we draw the corresponding production indifference curve and find its point of tangency with a budget line. The brick-colored

curve EE in Figure 13 connects all of the cost-minimizing points; that is, it is the locus of S, T, S’, and all other points of tangency between a production indifference curve and a budget line. Curve EE is called the firm’s expansion path. The expansion path is the locus of the firm’s costminimizing input combinations for all relevant output levels.

Point T in Figure 12 shows the quantity of output (given by the production indifference curve through that point) and the total cost (shown by the tangent budget line). Similarly, we can determine the output and total cost for every other point on the expansion path, EE, in Figure 13. For example, at point S, output is 200,000 bushels and total cost is $270,000. These data are precisely the sort of information we need to find the firm’s total cost curve; that is, they are the sort of information contained in Table 3, which is the source of the total cost curve and the average and marginal cost curves in Figure 4. Thus: The points of tangency between a firm’s production indifference curves and its budget lines yield its expansion path, which shows the firm’s cost-minimizing input combination for each pertinent output level. This information also yields the output and total cost for each point on the expansion path, which is what we need to draw the firm’s cost curves.

Suppose that the cost of renting land increases and the wage rate of labor decreases. These changes mean that the budget lines will differ from those depicted in Figure 12. Specifically, with land becoming more expensive, any given sum of money will rent fewer acres, so the intercept of each budget line on the vertical (land) axis will

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shift downward. Conversely, with cheaper labor, any given sum of money will buy more labor, so the intercept of the budget line on the horizontal (labor) axis will shift to the right. Figure 14 depicts a series of budget lines corresponding to a $1,500 per acre rental rate for land and a $6,000 annual wage for labor. If input prices change, the combination of inputs that minimizes costs will normally change. In this diagram, the land rent at $1,500 per acre is more than it was in Figure 12, whereas labor costs $6,000 per year (less than in Figure 12). As a result, these budget lines are less steep than those shown in Figure 12, and point E now represents the least costly way to produce 240,000 bushels of wheat. To assist you in seeing how things change, Figure 15 combines, in a single graph, budget line JK and

tangency point T from Figure 12 with budget line WV and tangency point E from Figure 14. When land becomes more expensive and labor becomes cheaper, the budget lines (such as JK) become less steep than they were previously (see WV). As a result, the least costly way to produce 240,000 bushels shifts from point T to point E, at which the firm uses more labor and less land. As common sense suggests, when the price of one input rises in comparison with that of another, it will pay the firm to use less of the more expensive input and more of the other input. In addition to substituting one input for another, a change in the price of an input may induce the firm to alter its level of output. We will cover this subject in the next chapter.

Optimal Input Choice at a Different Set of Input Prices

How Changes in Input Prices Affect Input Proportions

300 240

W

180 E

240,000 bushels 45

V 60

Quantity of Land in Acres

FIGURE 15

Quantity of Land in Acres

FIGURE 14

J

W

T E 240,000 bushels

75

K V Quantity of Labor in Years

Quantity of Labor in Years

| SUMMARY | 1. A production relationship can be described by a series of production indifference curves, each of which shows all input combinations capable of producing a specified amount of output. 2. As long as each input has a positive marginal physical product, production indifference curves will have negative slopes and the higher curves will represent larger amounts of output than the lower curves. Because of diminishing returns, these curves characteristically bend toward the origin near the middle. 3. The optimal input combination for any given level of output is indicated by the point of tangency between a budget line and the corresponding production indifference curve.

4. The firm’s expansion path shows, for each of its possible output levels, the combination of input quantities that minimizes the cost of producing that output. 5. Total cost for each output level can be derived from the production indifference curves and the budget lines tangent to them along the expansion path. These figures can be used to determine the firm’s total cost, average cost, and marginal cost curves. 6. When input prices change, firms will normally use more of the input that becomes relatively less expensive and less of the input that becomes relatively more expensive.

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153

| KEY TERMS | budget line

150

expansion path

151

production indifference curve

149

| TEST YOURSELF | 1. Compound Consolidated Corporation (CCC) produces containers using two inputs: labor and glue. If labor costs $10 per hour and glue costs $5 per gallon, draw CCC’s budget line for a total expenditure of $100,000. In this same diagram, sketch a production indifference curve indicating that CCC can produce no more than 1,000 containers with this expenditure.

2. With respect to Test Yourself Question 1, suppose that wages rise to $20 per hour and glue prices rise to $6 per gallon. How are CCC’s optimal input proportions likely to change? (Use a diagram to explain your answer.) 3. What happens to the location of the expansion path of the firm in Test Yourself Question 2?

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OUTPUT, PRICE, AND PROFIT: THE IMPORTANCE OF MARGINAL ANALYSIS Business is a good game. . . . You keep score with money. NOL AN BU SNEL L , F OU NDER OF ATA RI ( AN EARLY VI DEO GAM E MA KE R)

S

uppose you become president of a firm that makes video games. One of your most critical decisions will be how many video games to produce and at what price to offer them for sale. The owners of the company presumably want to make as much profit as possible. This chapter explores the logic underlying the decisions that lead to achievement of this goal. With this chapter, we cap off our discussion of the fundamental building blocks of microeconomics. Chapters 5 and 6 dealt with the behavior of consumers. Chapter 7 introduced the other main participant in microeconomics, the firm. The firm’s two main roles are, first, to produce its product efficiently and, second, to sell that product at a profit. Chapter 7 described production decisions and demonstrated that this process yields cost data. We will soon see in the current chapter that this is cost information the firm’s management needs to determine the price and output of its product that will yield a profit as high as market conditions permit. In Chapter 9, we will discuss stocks and bonds as instruments that enable business firms to obtain the money needed to finance their production and sales activities and as an earnings opportunity for individuals who consider investing in firms. Throughout Part 2, we have described how firms and consumers can make optimal decisions, meaning that their decisions go as far as possible, given the circumstances, to promote the consumer’s and producer’s goals. In this chapter, we will continue to assume that business firms seek primarily to maximize total profit, just as we assumed that consumers maximize utility. (See the box “Do Firms Really Maximize Profits?” on the following page, for a discussion of other objectives of business firms.)

C O N T E N T S PUZZLE: CAN A COMPANY MAKE A PROFIT BY SELLING BELOW ITS COSTS?

Maximization of Total Profit Profit Maximization: A Graphical Interpretation

PRICE AND QUANTITY: ONE DECISION, NOT TWO

MARGINAL ANALYSIS AND MAXIMIZATION OF TOTAL PROFIT

TOTAL PROFIT: KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE GOAL

Marginal Revenue and Marginal Cost: Guides to Optimization Finding the Optimal Price from Optimal Output

ECONOMIC PROFIT AND OPTIMAL DECISION MAKING Total, Average, and Marginal Revenue Total, Average, and Marginal Cost

GENERALIZATION: THE LOGIC OF MARGINAL ANALYSIS AND MAXIMIZATION Application: Fixed Cost and the ProfitMaximizing Price

PUZZLE RESOLVED: USING MARGINAL ANALYSIS TO UNRAVEL THE CASE OF THE “UNPROFITABLE” CALCULATOR

CONCLUSION: THE FUNDAMENTAL ROLE OF MARGINAL ANALYSIS THE THEORY AND REALITY: A WORD OF CAUTION | APPENDIX | The Relationships Among Total, Average, and Marginal Data Graphical Representation of Marginal and Average Curves

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Do Firms Really Maximize Profits?

An optimal decision is one which, among all the decisions that are actually possible, best achieves the decision maker’s goals. For example, if profit is the sole objective of some firm, the price that makes the firm’s profit as large as possible is optimal for that company.

Herbert Simon of Carnegie-Mellon University, have concluded that decision making in industry and government is often of the satisficing variety. Even if this assertion is true, it does not necessarily make profit maximization a bad assumption. Recall our discussion of abstraction and model building in Chapter 1. A map of Los Angeles that omits hundreds of roads is no doubt “wrong” if interpreted as a literal description of the city. Nonetheless, by capturing the most important elements of reality, it may help us understand the city better than a map that is cluttered with too much detail. Similarly, we can learn much about the behavior of business firms by assuming that they try to maximize profits, even though we know that not all of them act this way all of the time.

SOURCE: © The New Yorker Collection 1985 Charles Saxon from cartoonbank.com. All Rights Reserved.

Naturally, many people question whether firms really try to maximize profits to the exclusion of all other goals. But businesspeople are like other human beings: Their motives are varied and complex. Given the choice, many executives may prefer to control the largest firm rather than the most profitable one. Some may be fascinated by technology and therefore spend so much on research and development that it cuts down on profit. Some may want to “do good” and therefore give away some of the stockholders’ money to hospitals and colleges. Different managers within the same firm may not always agree with one another on goals, so that it may not even make sense to speak about “the” goal of the firm. Thus, any attempt to summarize the objectives of management in terms of a single number (profit) is bound to be an oversimplification. In addition, the exacting requirements for maximizing profits are tough to satisfy. In deciding how much to invest, what price to set for a product, or how much to allocate to the advertising budget, the range of available alternatives is enormous. Also, information about each alternative is often expensive and difficult to acquire. As a result, when a firm’s management decides on, say, an $18 million construction budget, it rarely compares the consequences of that decision in any detail with the consequences of all possible alternatives—such as budgets of $17 million or $19 million. Unless all the available possibilities are compared, management cannot be sure that it has chosen the one that brings in the highest possible profit. Often, management’s concern is whether the decision’s results are likely to be acceptable—whether its risks will be acceptably low, whether its profits will be acceptably high—so that the company can live satisfactorily with the outcome. Such analysis cannot be expected to bring in the maximum possible profit. The decision may be good, but some unexplored alternative may be even better. Decision making that seeks only solutions that are acceptable has been called satisficing, to contrast it with optimizing (profit maximization). Some analysts, such as the late Nobel Prize winner

“It’s true that more is not necessarily better, Edward, but it frequently is.”

As in the previous three chapters, marginal analysis helps us to determine what constitutes an optimal decision. Because that method of analysis is so useful, this chapter summarizes and generalizes what we have learned about the methods of marginal analysis, showing also how this analysis applies in many other situations in which optimality is an issue. Marginal analysis leads to some surprising conclusions that show how misleading unaided “common sense” can sometimes be. Here’s an example. Suppose a firm suffers a sharp increase in its rent or some other fixed cost. How should the firm react? Some would argue that the firm should raise the price of its product to cover the higher rent; others would argue that it should cut its price so as to increase its sales enough to pay the increased rent. We will see in this chapter that both of these answers are incorrect! A profitmaximizing firm faced with a rent increase should neither raise nor lower its price if it wants to prevent its net earnings from falling.

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Chapter 8

PUZZLE:

Output, Price, and Profit: The Importance of Marginal Analysis

CAN A COMPANY MAKE A PROFIT BY SELLING BELOW ITS COSTS?

Price and output decisions can sometimes perplex even the most experienced businesspeople. The following real-life illustration seems to show that it is possible for a firm to make a profit by selling at a price that is apparently below its cost.1 In a recent legal battle between two manufacturers of pocket calculators, Company B accused Company A of selling 10 million sophisticated calculators at a price of $12, which Company A allegedly knew was too low to cover costs. Company B claimed that Company A was cutting its price simply to drive Company B out of business. At first, Company A’s records, as revealed to the court, appeared to confirm Company B’s accusations. The cost of materials, labor, advertising, and other direct costs of the calculators came to $10.30 per calculator. Company A’s accountants also assigned to this product its share of the company’s annual expenditure on overhead—such items as general administration, research, and the like—which amounted to $4.25 per calculator. The $12 price clearly did not cover the $14.55 cost attributed to each calculator. Yet economists representing Company A were able to convince the court that, at the $12 price, manufacturing the calculator was a profitable activity for Company A, so there was no basis on which to conclude that its only purpose was to destroy B. At the end of the chapter, we’ll see how ordinary good sense is not necessarily the best guide in business decisions and how marginal analysis helped solve this problem.

PRICE AND QUANTITY: ONE DECISION, NOT TWO When your company introduces a new line of video games, the marketing department has to decide what price to charge and how many games to produce. These crucial decisions strongly influence the firm’s labor requirements, the consumer response to the product, and, indeed, the company’s future success. This chapter’s main focus is on how to determine these two quantities so as to maximize the firm’s profits. When the firm selects a price and a quantity of output that maximize profits, it seems that it must choose two numbers. In fact, however, the firm can pick only one. Once it has selected the price, the quantity it can sell is up to consumers. Alternatively, the firm may decide how many units it would like to sell, but then the market will determine the price at which this quantity can be sold. The firm’s dilemma explicitly illustrates the powerful role that consumers play in the market. Management gets two numbers by making only one decision because the firm’s demand curve tells it, for any quantity it may decide to market, the highest possible price its product can bring. To illustrate, we return to Chapter 7’s garage-building example. Al’s Building Contractors sells garages to individual homeowners, and Al is trying to figure out how best to make money on his building operation. To do this, he must estimate his firm’s demand curve. The firm’s demand curve is different from the demand curves we encountered in earlier chapters—the demand curve of an individual consumer and the market demand curve (which is the combined demand of all consumers in the market). Now we are dealing with a single firm (Al’s Building Contractors) that is only one among possibly many firms that serve the market. The demand curve of any one supplier depends on the number and activities of the other firms in the market, as each competes for its share of total market demand. The demand curve of a single firm is actually a complicated matter that we will deal with several times in subsequent chapters.2 For now, suffice it to say that Al’s

The following case is disguised to protect the confidentiality of the firms involved. In one case, the relation between market demand and firm demand is very easy. That is the case where the firm has no competitors—it is a monopoly. Since it has the entire market to itself, its demand curve and the market demand curve are one and the same. We deal with monopoly in Chapter 11. Another fairly straightforward case, called perfect competition, will be studied in Chapter 10. 1 2

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Price per Garage (thousands $)

35 30 26 19 16

D a

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Profit maximum

e f

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Output, Garages Marketed per Year

F I GURE 1 Demand Curve for Al’s Garages

The total profit of a firm is its net earnings during some period of time. It is equal to the total amount of money the firm gets from sales of its products (the firm’s total revenue) minus the total amount that it spends to make and market those products (total cost).

9

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demand curve will lie closer to the market demand curve (meaning that Al has a greater share of the market), the better his service, the more effective his advertising, the stronger his reputation for quality, and so on. Suppose Al faces the demand curve for his garages shown as DD in Figure 1. The curve depicts the quantity demanded at each price. For example, the curve shows that at a price of $22,000 per garage (point e), Al’s customers will demand five garages. If Al gets greedy and tries to charge the higher price of $26,000 per garage (point c on the curve), he can sell only three garages. If he wants to sell eight garages, he can find the required number of customers only by offering the garages at the lower price of $16,000 each (point h). In summary:

Each point on the demand curve represents a price–quantity pair. The firm can pick any such pair. It can never pick the price corresponding to one point on the demand curve and the quantity corresponding to another point, however, because such an output cannot be sold at the selected price.

For this reason, we will not discuss price and output decisions separately throughout this chapter, for they are actually two different aspects of the same decision. To analyze this decision, we will make an imperfectly realistic assumption about the behavior of business firms—the assumption that firms strive for the largest possible total profit to the exclusion of any other goal. We will therefore assume throughout this chapter (and for most of the book) that the firm has only one objective: It wants to make its total profit as large as possible. Our analytic strategy will seek to determine what output level (or price) achieves this goal, but you should keep in mind that many of our results depend on this simplifying assumption, so the conclusions will not apply to every case. Our decision to base the analysis on the profit-maximizing assumption gives us sharper insights, but we pay for it with some loss of realism.

TOTAL PROFIT: KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE GOAL Total profit, then, is the firm’s assumed goal. By definition, total profit is the difference between what the company earns in the form of sales revenue and what it pays out in the form of costs: Total profit 5 Total revenue 2 Total cost ( including opportunity cost )

IDEAS FOR BEYOND THE FINAL EXAM

OPPORTUNITY COST AND PROFIT Total profit defined in this way is called economic profit to distinguish it from an accountant’s definition of profit. The two concepts of profit differ because an economist’s total cost counts the opportunity cost of any capital, labor, or other inputs supplied by the firm’s owner. For example, let’s say that Naomi, who owns a small business, earns just enough to pay herself the money that her labor and capital could have earned if they had been sold to others (say, $60,000 per year). Then, as we saw in Chapter 3, economists would say that she is earning zero economic profit. (Naomi is just covering all her costs, including her opportunity costs.) In contrast, most accountants would say her profit is $60,000, referring to the difference between her gross receipts and gross costs.

ECONOMIC PROFIT AND OPTIMAL DECISION MAKING Why do economists use this apparently strange definition of profits, in which they subtract not only the costs that would ordinarily be deducted from total revenue but also the Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

Chapter 8

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Output, Price, and Profit: The Importance of Marginal Analysis

opportunity costs? The answer is that doing so tells us directly whether the firm has made an optimal decision, in other words, whether the firm has chosen the price and quantity that maximizes profits. Specifically: 1. If economic profit is positive, then the firm’s decisions are optimal; that is, its price and output yield a profit larger than any alternative prices and outputs. 2. If economic profit is zero, then the firm’s choices are still satisfactory, because its price and output yield as much profit as the best available alternative. 3. If economic profit is negative, then the choice is not optimal; there exists at least one alternative price–output combination that is more profitable. This reasoning explains why we pay so much attention to opportunity cost: because it helps us to determine whether or not a decision is optimal. It works for all decisions, not only those about prices and quantities. But how does it do so? An example will make it clear. Suppose a firm has $100,000 to spend on either packaging or advertising. Suppose further that if the $100,000 is spent on packaging, it will bring in an accounting profit (that is, a profit as ordinarily defined: total revenue minus total ordinary cost, leaving out opportunity cost) of $20,000. If, instead, the (accounting) profit it could obtain from a $100,000 investment in advertising is $X, then by definition, $X is the opportunity cost of the decision to invest in packaging. In other words, $X is the earnings that could have been obtained from the alternative opportunity that the firm gives up by investing in packaging. So, for the possible decision to invest in packaging: Economic profit 5 Accounting profit 2 Opportunity cost 5 $20,000 2 $X 5 The difference between the earnings offered by the two alternative investments

This immediately illustrates our three conclusions above, because: 1. If $X , $20,000, then economic profit . 0, because packaging, which yields $20,000, is the more profitable investment choice. 2. If $X 5 $20,000, then economic profit 5 0, and the two investment options are equally profitable. 3. And if $X . $20,000, then the economic profit of packaging ($20,000 2 $X) is negative, so advertising must be a more profitable investment than packaging. The reason economic profit performs this test is simple: Economic profit of the decision in question 5 its accounting profit 2 its opportunity cost 5 accounting profit of the decision in question 2 accounting profit of the best available alternative. So, the economic profit of the decision in question will be positive only if it is more profitable (in the accountant’s measurement) than the alternative, and so on.

Economic profit equals net earnings, in the accountant’s sense, minus the opportunity costs of capital and of any other inputs supplied by the firm’s owners.

Total, Average, and Marginal Revenue To see how total profit depends on output, we must study how the two components of total profit, total revenue (TR) and total cost (TC), behave when output changes. It should be obvious that both total revenue and total cost depend on the output–price combination the firm selects; we will study these relationships presently. We can calculate total revenue directly from the firm’s demand curve because, by definition, it is the product of price times the quantity that consumers will buy at that price: TR 5 P 3 Q

Table 1 shows how we derive the total revenue schedule from the demand schedule for Al’s garages. The first two columns simply give the relevant quantities and the price of the corresponding quantity, so that they express Figure 1’s demand curve in tabular form. The third column gives, for each quantity, the product of price times quantity. For example, if Al sells seven garages at a price of $18,000 per garage, his annual sales revenue will be 7 garages 3 $18,000 per garage 5 $126,000.

The total revenue of a supplier firm is the total amount of money it receives from the purchasers of its products, without any deduction of costs.

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Part 2

TABLE 1 Demand for Al’s Garages: His Total Revenue Schedule and His Marginal Revenue Schedule

(1)

(2) (3) (4) Price 5 Average Marginal Revenue Total Revenue Garages per Revenue per Added per Garage (in per Year (in Garage (in Year thousands) thousands) thousands) 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

The average revenue (AR) is total revenue (TR) divided by quantity.

— $30 28 26 24 22 20 18 16 14 12

$0 30 56 78 96 110 120 126 128 126 120

$30 26 22 18 14 10 6 2 22 26

Figure 2 displays Al’s total revenue schedule in graphic form as the black TR curve. This graph shows precisely the same information as the demand curve in Figure 1, but in a somewhat different form. For example, point f on the demand curve in Figure 1, which shows a price–quantity combination of P 5 $20,000 per garage and Q 5 6 garages per year, appears as point F in Figure 2 as a total revenue of $120,000 per year ($20,000 per garage 3 6 garages). Similarly, each other point on the TR curve in Figure 2 corresponds to the similarly labeled point in Figure 1. We can speak of the relationship between the demand curve and the TR curve in a slightly different and more useful way than that shown in Figure 1. Because the product price is the revenue per unit that the firm receives, we can view the demand curve as an average revenue (AR) curve. To see why this is so, observe that average revenue and total revenue are, by definition, related to one another by the formula AR 5 TR/Q and, as we have seen, TR 5 P 3 Q. Therefore,3 AR 5 TR/Q 5 P 3 Q/Q 5 P

Total Revenue per Year (thousands $)

Marginal revenue (MR) is the addition to total revenue resulting from the addition of one unit to total output. Geometrically, marginal revenue is the slope of the total revenue curve at the pertinent output quantity. Its formula is MR1 5 TR12TR0, and so on.

As you can see, average revenue and price are just different names for the same thing. The reason should be clear. If a supermarket sells a brand of candy bars at the same price— say, $1—to each and every customer who wants one, then the average revenue that the store derives from each sale of these candy bars must also be $1. Finally, the last column of Table 1 shows the marginal revenue (MR) for each level of output. Marginal revenue provides us with an analytic tool whose use we will explain presently. This concept (analogous to marginal utility and marginal cost) refers to the addition to total revenue that results from raising output by one unit. Thus, in Table 1, we see that when output rises from two to three garages, total revenue goes up from $56,000 to $78,000, so marginal revenue is $78,000 minus $56,000, or $22,000.

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Output, Garages Sold per Year

F I GURE 2 Total Revenue Curve for Al’s Garages

3

See the appendix to this chapter for a general discussion of the relationship between totals and averages.

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Chapter 8

Total, Average, and Marginal Cost

Maximization of Total Profit We now have all the tools to answer our central question: What combination of output and price will yield the largest possible total profit? To study how total profit depends on output, Table 3 brings together the total revenue and total cost schedules from Tables 1 and 2. The fourth column in Table 3—called, appropriately enough, total profit—is just the difference between total revenue and total cost at each level of output.

Total Cost per Year (thousands $)

180 160 140 120 100 80 60 40 20 0

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Output, Garages per Year (a) Total Cost 50 Marginal Cost per Added Garage (thousands $)

The revenue side is, of course, only half of the firm’s profit picture. We must turn to the cost side for the other half. As we saw in Chapter 7, average cost (AC) and marginal cost (MC) are obtained directly from total cost (TC) in exactly the same way that average and marginal revenue are calculated from total revenue. Figure 3 plots the numbers in Table 2 and thus shows the total, average, and marginal cost curves for Al’s garage-building operation. As we learned in Chapter 7, the U-shapes of the average cost and marginal cost curves depicted here are considered typical. The shapes mean that, in any given industry, there is one size of firm that is most efficient in producing the output. Smaller enterprises lose any advantages that derive from a large volume of production, and so their average cost (the cost per unit of output) will be greater than that of a firm operating at the most efficient size of output. Similarly, firms that are too large will suffer from difficulties of supervision and coordination, and perhaps from bureaucratic controls, so that their costs per unit of output will also be higher than those of a firm of the most efficient size.

TC

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MC

45 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0

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Output, Garages per Year (b) Marginal Cost

Al’s Total, Average, and Marginal Costs

(1)

(2)

Garages per Year

Total Cost per Year (in thousands)

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

$ 12 40 56 66 74 80 87 96 112 144 190

(3) Marginal Cost per Added Garage (in thousands) $28 16 10 8 6 7 9 16 32 46

(4) Average Cost per Garage (in thousands) — $40 28 22 18.5 16 14.5 13.7 (approx.) 14 16 19

Average Cost per Garage (thousands $)

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TABLE 2

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Output, Garages per Year (c) Average Cost NOTE: Output is in garages per year.

FI GURE 3 Cost Curves for Al’s Garages

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TABLE 3 Total Revenues, Costs, and Profit for Al’s Garages

(1)

(2)

(3)

(4)

(5)

Total Total Total Garages Revenue Cost Profit per (TR) (in (TC) (in (TR – TC) (in Year thousands) thousands) thousands) $0 30 56 78 96 110 120 126 128 126 120

$ 12 40 56 66 74 80 87 96 112 144 190

F I GURE 4 Profit Maximization: A Graphical Interpretation

$212 210 0 12 22 30 33 30 16 218 270

$2 10 12 10 8 3 23 214 234 252

Total Revenue, Total Cost per Year (thousands $)

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Marginal Profit (in thousands)

Because we assume that Al’s objective is to maximize profits, it is simple enough to determine the level of production he will choose. The table indicates that by producing and selling six garages per year, Al’s garage-building operation obtains the highest level of profit it is capable of earning—$33,000 per year (actually, we will see in a moment that it pays Al to produce a little more than this amount). Any higher or lower rate of production would lead to lower profits. For example, profits would drop to $30,000 if output increased to seven garages. If Al were to make the mistake of producing ten garages per season, he would actually suffer a net loss.

Profit Maximization: A Graphical Interpretation We can present the same information on a graph. In Figure 4(a), we bring together into a single diagram the relevant portion of the total revenue curve from Figure 2 and the total cost curve from

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Maximum profit

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100 96 80 74 60

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$22,000

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Maximum profit 40 34 20

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Output, Garages per Year (b) Total Profit NOTE: Output is in garages per year.

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Figure 3. Total profit, which is the difference between total revenue and total cost, appears in the diagram as the vertical distance between the TR and TC curves. For example, when output is four garages, total revenue is $96,000 (point A), total cost is $74,000 (point B), and total profit is the distance between points A and B, or $22,000. In this graphical view of the problem, Al wants to maximize total profit, which is the vertical distance between the TR and TC curves. Figure 4(b) plots these vertical differences derived from Figure 4(a) and so it shows the curve of total profit—that is, TR 2 TC. We see that it reaches its maximum value of about $34,000 (point M) at an output level of 6.5 garages per year—that is, 13 garages every two years. This graph shows that the conclusion we reached by looking at Table 3 was approximately right, but not perfectly accurate. Why? Because the table did not consider the possibility that the labor and material it pays Al to acquire may make it profitable to start on the construction of yet another garage after the first six are completed, with this garage being finished in the next year. We will consider this possibility in more detail in a few paragraphs. The total profit curve in Figure 4(b) is shaped like a hill. Although such a shape is not inevitable, we expect a hill shape to be typical for the following reason: If a firm produces nothing, it certainly earns no profit. At the other extreme, a firm can produce so much output that it swamps the market, forcing price down so low that it loses money. Only at intermediate levels of output—something between zero and the amount that floods the market—can the company earn a positive profit. Consequently, the total profit curve will rise from zero (or negative) levels at a very small output to positive levels at intermediate outputs; finally, it will fall to negative levels when output gets too large.

MARGINAL ANALYSIS AND MAXIMIZATION OF TOTAL PROFIT We see from Figure 4 and Table 3 that many levels of output may yield a positive profit, but the firm is not aiming for just any level of profit. Instead, it wants the largest possible profit. If management knew the exact shape of its profit hill, choosing the optimal level of output would be a simple task indeed. It would merely have to locate the point, such as M in Figure 4(b), that defined the top of its profit hill. However, management rarely, if ever, has so much information, so a different technique for finding the optimum is required. That technique is marginal analysis, which is the same set of tools we used to analyze the firm’s input purchase decisions in Chapter 7 and the consumer ’s buying decisions in Chapters 5 and 6. This time we will use a concept known as marginal profit to solve Al’s problem. Referring back to Table 3, we see that an increase in Al’s output from three to four garages would raise total profit from $12,000 to $22,000; that is, it would generate $10,000 in additional profit, as shown in the last column of Table 3. We call this amount the marginal profit resulting from the addition of the fourth garage. Similarly, marginal profit from the seventh garage would be

Marginal profit is the addition to total profit resulting from one more unit of output.

Total profit from 7 garages 2 Total profit from 6 garages 5 $30,000 2 $33,000 5 2$3,000

The marginal rule for finding the optimal level of output is easy to understand: If the marginal profit from increasing output by one unit is positive, then output should be increased. If the marginal profit from increasing output by one unit is negative, then output should be decreased. Thus, an output level can maximize total profit only if marginal profit is neither positive nor negative—that is, if it equals zero at that output.

For Al’s Building Contractors, the marginal profit from the sixth unit of output (a sixth garage) is $3,000. This means that building six garages is not enough. Because marginal profit is still positive at six garages per year, it pays to produce more than six garages per year. However, marginal profit from the seventh garage is $30,000 2 $33,000, or 2$3,000, so Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

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the firm should produce less than seven garages because production of the seventh garage would reduce total profit by $3,000. Only at something between six and seven garages, where marginal profit is neither positive nor negative (as is approximately true for 6.5 garages), can total profit be as big as possible, because neither increasing nor reducing output can add to total profit. The marginal profit numbers in Table 3 indicate one way in which marginal analysis helps to improve decisions. If we had looked only at the total profit figures in the fourth column of the table, we might have concluded that six garages is the profitmaximizing output for Al. The marginal profit column (column 5) tells us that this is not so. We see that the marginal profit of a seventh garage is 2$3,000, so Al should, indeed, produce fewer than seven garages per year. But the marginal profit of the sixth garage is 1$3,000, so it pays Al to produce more than six garages. Thus, a production level somewhere between six and seven garages per year, that is, approximately 13 garages every two years, really maximizes profits, as the total profit graph confirms. The profit hill in Figure 4(b) is a graphical representation of the condition stating that to maximize profit, marginal profit should be zero (or as close to zero as possible). Marginal profit is defined as the additional profit that accrues to the firm when output rises by one unit. For example, when output is increased, say, from three units to four units, or the distance CD in Figure 4(b), total profit rises by $10,000 (the distance DE) and marginal profit is therefore DE/CD (see the triangle CDE in the graph). This is precisely the definition of the slope of the total profit curve between points C and E. In general: SOURCE: © David Papazian/Corbis

164

Marginal profit at any output is the slope of the total profit curve at that level of output.

With this geometric interpretation in hand, we can easily understand the logic of the marginal profit rule. At a point such as C in Figure 4(b), where the total profit curve is rising, marginal profit (which equals slope) is positive. Profit cannot be maximal at such a point, because we can increase profits by moving farther to the right. A firm that decided to stick to point C would be wasting the opportunity to increase profits by increasing output, thereby going further up the profit hill. Similarly, the firm cannot be maximizing profits at a point such as F, where the slope of the curve is negative, because there marginal profit (which, again, equals slope) is negative. If it finds itself at a point such as F, the firm can raise its profit by decreasing its output. Only at a point such as M in Figure 4(b), where the total profit curve is neither rising nor falling, can the firm possibly be at the top of the profit hill rather than on one of the sides of the hill. Point M is precisely where the slope of the curve—and hence the marginal profit—is zero. Thus: An output decision cannot be optimal unless the corresponding marginal profit is zero.

It is important to recognize once again that the firm is not interested in marginal profit for its own sake, but rather for what it implies about total profit. Marginal profit is like the needle on the temperature gauge of a car: The needle itself is of no concern to anyone, but failure to watch it can have dire consequences. One common misunderstanding about marginal analysis is the idea that it seems foolish to go to a point where marginal profit is zero. “Isn’t it better to earn a positive marginal profit?” This notion springs from confusion between the quantity one is seeking to maximize (total profit) and the gauge that indicates whether such a maximum has

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actually been attained (marginal profit). Of course, it is better to have a positive total profit than a zero total profit. In contrast, a zero value on the marginal profit gauge merely indicates that all is well—that total profit is at its maximum, that we are at the top of the profit hill, where the slope is zero. THE IMPORTANCE OF THINKING AT THE MARGIN Marginal Analysis: You are likely to have noticed a recurrent theme in this chapter, which is a cornerstone of any economic analysis and thus one of our Ideas for Beyond the Final Exam. In any decision about whether to expand an activity, it is always the marginal cost and marginal benefit that are the relevant factors. A calculation based on average data is likely to lead the decision maker to miss all sorts of opportunities, some of them critical. More generally, if one wants to make optimal decisions, marginal analysis should be used in the planning calculations. This is true whether the decision applies to a business firm seeking to maximize total profit or minimize the cost of the output it has selected, to a consumer trying to maximize utility, or to a less developed country striving to maximize per-capita output. It applies as much to decisions on input proportions and advertising as to decisions about output levels and prices.

IDEAS FOR BEYOND THE FINAL EXAM

Marginal Revenue and Marginal Cost: Guides to Optimization An alternative version of the marginal analysis of profit maximization can be derived from the cost and revenue components of profit. For this purpose, refer back to Figure 4, where we used total revenue (TR) and total cost (TC) curves to construct the profit hill. There is another way of finding the profit-maximizing solution. We want to maximize the firm’s profit, which is measured by the vertical distance between the TR and TC curves. This distance is not maximal at an output level such as three units, because there the two curves are growing farther apart. If we move farther to the right, the vertical distance between them (which is total profit) will increase. Similarly, we have not maximized the vertical distance between TR and TC at an output level such as eight units, because there the two curves are coming closer together. We can add to profit by moving farther to the left (reducing output). The conclusion from the graph, then, is that total profit—the vertical distance between TR and TC—is maximized only when the two curves are neither growing farther apart nor coming closer together—that is, when their slopes are equal (in the case of Al’s Building Contractors in Figure 4, at 6.5 garages). Marginal revenue and marginal cost curves, which we learned about earlier TABLE 4 in the chapter, will help us understand this concept better. For precisely the Al’s Marginal Revenue and Marginal Cost same reason that marginal profit is the slope of the total profit curve, marginal revenue is the slope of the total revenue curve—because it represents the in(1) (2) (3) crease in total revenue resulting from the sale of one additional unit. Similarly, Garages Marginal Marginal marginal cost is equal to the slope of the total cost curve. This interpretation of per Revenue (in Cost (in marginal revenue and marginal cost, respectively, as the slopes of the total revYear thousands) thousands) enue and total cost curves permits us to restate the geometric conclusion we 0 — — have just reached in an economically significant way: 1 $30 $28 Profit can be maximized only at an output level at which marginal revenue is (approximately) equal to marginal cost. In symbols: MR 5 MC

The logic of the MR 5 MC rule for profit maximization is straightforward.4 When MR is not equal to MC, profits cannot possibly be maximized because the firm can increase its profits by either raising or reducing its output. For example, if MR 5 $22,000 and MC 5 $10,000 (Table 4), an additional unit of output

2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

26 22 18 14 10 6 2 22 26

4 You may have surmised by now that just as total profit 5 total revenue 2 total cost, it must be true that marginal profit 5 marginal revenue 2 marginal cost. This is, in fact, correct. It also shows that when marginal profit 5 0, we must have MR 5 MC.

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16 10 8 6 7 9 16 32 46

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F I GURE 5 Profit Maximization: Another Graphical Interpretation

MR and MC per Garage per Year (thousands $)

50

MC

40

30

20 E

10 0 1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10 MR

–10

Total Revenue, Total Cost per Year (thousands $)

Output, Garages per Year (a) Marginal Revenue and Marginal Cost

200

TC

180 160

Maximum profit

140 M

TR

120 A

100 96 80 74 60

B

$22,000

40 20 0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Total Profit per Year (thousands $)

Output, Garages per Year (b) Total Revenue. Total Cost

40 34 20

Maximum profit

M E C

F D

0 –20

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

–40 –60 –80

Output, Garages per Year (c) Total Profit

8

9

10

adds $22,000 to revenues but only $10,000 to costs. Hence, the firm can increase its net profit by $12,000 by producing and selling one more unit. Similarly, if MC exceeds MR, say, MR 5 $6,000 and MC 5 $9,000, then the firm loses $3,000 on its marginal unit, so it can add $3,000 to its profit by reducing output by one unit. Only when MR 5 MC (or comes as close as possible to equaling MC) is it impossible for the firm to add to its profit by changing its output level. Table 4 reproduces marginal revenue and marginal cost data for Al’s Building Contractors from Tables 1 and 2. The table shows, as must be true, that the MR 5 MC rule leads us to the same conclusion as Figure 4 and Table 3. If he wants to maximize his profits, Al should produce more than six but fewer than seven garages per year. The marginal revenue of the sixth garage is $10,000 ($120,000 from the sale of six garages less $110,000 from the sale of five garages), whereas the marginal cost is only $7,000 ($87,000 2 $80,000). Therefore, MR > MC and the firm should produce more than the sixth unit. The seventh garage, however, brings in only $6,000 in marginal revenue and its marginal cost is $9,000—clearly a losing proposition. Only at about 6.5 units of output does MR equal MC exactly. Because the graphs of marginal analysis will prove so useful in later chapters, Figure 5(a) shows the MR 5 MC condition for profit maximization graphically. The black curve labeled MR in the figure is the marginal revenue schedule from Table 4. The brick-colored curve labeled MC is the marginal cost schedule. The two curves intersect at point E, where marginal revenue and marginal cost are equal. The optimal output for

NOTE: Output is in garages per year.

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Al is 6.5 units.5 Figures 5(b) and 5(c), respectively, reproduce the TR and TC curves from Figure 4(a) and the total profit curve from Figure 4(b). Note how MC and MR intersect at the same output at which the distance of TR above TC is greatest, which is also the output at which the profit hill reaches its peak.

Finding the Optimal Price from Optimal Output At the beginning of this chapter, we set two goals—to determine the profit-maximizing output and to find the profit-maximizing price—and emphasized that once we know either of these, it can automatically tell us the other. So far, we have identified the profit-maximizing output, the output level at which MR 5 MC (6.5 garages per year in our garage-building example). That leaves us with the task of determining the profit-maximizing price. Fortunately, this task requires only one more easy step. As we said earlier, once the firm has selected the output it wants to produce and sell, the demand curve determines the price it must charge to induce consumers to buy that amount of product. Consequently, if we know that the profit-maximizing output is 6.5 garages, the demand curve in Figure 1 tells us what price Al must charge to sell that profit-maximizing output. To sell an average of 6.5 garages per year (that is, 13 garages every two years), he must price each garage at $19,000 (between points f and g). The demand curve tells us that this amount is the only price at which this quantity will be demanded by customers. Once the profit-maximizing output quantity has been determined with the help of the MR 5 MC rule, it is easy to find the profit-maximizing price with the help of the demand curve. Just use that curve to find out at what price the optimal quantity will be demanded.

P OLICY D E B AT E

Profit and the New Market Economies only by the firms themselves but also by some British economists. The debate in the United Kingdom and elsewhere amounts to this: Should severe limits be placed on profits as a matter of fairness and to improve the ethical climate of society, or should such measures be avoided because ceilings on profits undermine the incentives for business success and therefore prevent the market mechanism from delivering the economic abundance of which it is capable?

SOURCE: © The New Yorker Collection 1990 Dana Fradon from cartoonbank.com. All Rights Reserved.

The failure of communism to produce economic abundance has led the nations of Eastern Europe, and even China, to turn to the market mechanism. These countries hope that the market will soon bring them the sort of prosperity achieved by the industrialized countries. The market, as we know, is driven by the profit motive. In a free market, profits are not determined by a government agency, but rather by demand and cost conditions, as described by the demand and cost curves. Many citizens of these new market economies are appalled by the sizes of the profits that the free market affords to successful businesspeople, and they are upset by the greed that these entrepreneurs display. There are pressures to put limits on these profits. The same thing happened in the United Kingdom and elsewhere as firms formerly owned by the government were sold to private individuals and returned to the market. In the United Kingdom, a number of the privatized firms were initially monopolies, and the government chose to protect consumers by putting ceilings on prices but not on profits to provide the firms with appropriate incentives. Yet when some of these firms proved to be quite profitable, the British government agencies reduced the price ceilings so as to cut those profits, a move that was attacked sharply not

“Please stand by, we are switching to a free-market economy”

5 We must note one important qualification. Sometimes marginal revenue and marginal cost curves do not have the nice shapes depicted in Figure 5(a), and they may intersect more than once. In such cases, although it remains true that MR 5 MC at the output level that maximizes profits, there may be other output levels at which MR 5 MC but at which profits are not maximized.

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GENERALIZATION: THE LOGIC OF MARGINAL ANALYSIS AND MAXIMIZATION The logic of marginal analysis of profit maximization that we have just studied can be generalized, because essentially the same argument was already used in Chapters 5 and 7 and will recur in a number of chapters later in this book. To avoid having to master the argument each time all over again, it is useful to see how this concept can be applied in problems other than the determination of the firm’s profit-maximizing output. The general issue is this: Decision makers often are faced with the problem of selecting the magnitude of some variable, such as how much to spend on advertising, or how many bananas to buy, or how many school buildings to construct. Each of these acts brings benefits, so the larger the number selected by the decision maker, the larger the total benefits that will be derived. Unfortunately, as larger numbers are selected, the associated costs also grow. The problem is to take the trade-off properly into account and to calculate at what point the net gain—the difference between the total benefit and the total cost—will be greatest. Thus, we have the following general principle: If a decision is to be made about the quantity of some variable, then to maximize Net benefit 5 Total benefit 2 Total cost, the decision maker must select a value of the variable at which Marginal benefit 5 (approximately) Marginal cost

For example, if a community were to determine that the marginal benefit from building an additional school was greater than the cost of an additional school, it would clearly be better off if it built another school. But if the community were planning to build so many schools that the marginal benefit was less than the marginal cost, it would be better off if it switched to a more limited construction program. Only if the marginal benefit and cost are as close as possible to being equal will the community have the optimal number of schools. We will apply this same concept in later chapters. Again and again, when we analyze a quantitative decision that brings together both benefits and costs, we conclude that the optimal decision occurs at the point where the marginal benefit equals the marginal cost. The logic is the same whether we are considering the net gains to a firm, to a consumer, or to society as a whole.

Application: Fixed Cost and the Profit-Maximizing Price We can now use our analytic framework to offer an insight that is often unexpected. Suppose there is a rise in the firm’s fixed cost; for example, imagine that the property taxes on Al’s Building Contractors double. What will happen to the profit-maximizing price and output? Should Al raise his price to cover the increased cost, or should he produce a larger output even if it requires a drop in price? The answer is surprising: Neither! When a firm’s fixed cost increases, its profit-maximizing price and output remain completely unchanged, so long as it pays the firm to stay in business.

In other words, there is nothing that the firm’s management can do to offset the effect of the rise in fixed cost. This is surely a case where common sense is not a reliable guide to the right decision. Why is this so? Recall that, by definition, a fixed cost does not change when output changes. The increase in Al’s fixed costs is the same whether business is slow or booming, whether production is 2 garages or 20. This idea is illustrated in Table 5, which also reproduces Al’s total profits from Table 3. The third column of the table shows that total fixed cost has risen (from zero) to $10,000 per year. As a result, total profit is $10,000 less than it would have been otherwise—no matter what the firm’s output. For example, when output is four units, we see that total profit falls from $22,000 (second column) to $12,000 (last column). Because profit is reduced by the same amount at every output level, whatever output was most profitable before the increase in fixed costs must still be most profitable. In Table 5, we see that $23,000 is the largest entry in the last column, which shows profits after the rise in fixed cost. This approximately highest possible profit is attained, as it was before, when Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

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FIGURE 6

Rise in Fixed Cost: Total Profit Before and After

Fixed Cost Does Not Affect Profit-Maximizing Output

(1) Garages per Year

(2) Total Profit Before (in thousands)

(3) Rise in Fixed Cost (in thousands)

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

$212 210 0 12 22 30 33 30 16 218 270

$10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10

(4) Total Profit After (in thousands) $222 220 210 2 12 20 23 20 6 228 280

Total Profit per Year (thousands $)

TABLE 5

Profit with zero fixed cost

40

M

Profit with a fixed cost

N 20

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

Output in Garages per Year

output is at six units. The actual profit-maximizing output will remain at 6.5 garages, exactly as before. In other words, the firm’s profit-maximizing price and quantity remain unchanged. This is shown graphically in Figure 6, which displays the firm’s total profit hill before and after the rise in fixed cost (reproducing Al’s initial profit hill from Figure 4). We see that the cost increase simply moves the profit hill straight downward by $10,000, so the highest point on the hill is just lowered from point M to point N. But the top of the hill is shifted neither left nor right. It remains at the 6.5-garage output level.6

PUZZLE RESOLVED:

USING MARGINAL ANALYSIS TO UNRAVEL THE CASE OF THE “UNPROFITABLE” CALCULATOR

We can now put the marginal analysis of profit determination to work to solve the puzzle with which we began this chapter. The example was drawn from reality, and reality never works as neatly as a textbook illustration with a mechanical application of the MR 5 MC rule. However, we will see that the underlying reasoning does shed useful light on real problems. Our “unprofitable” calculator puzzle concerned a firm that produced a number of electronic items, including calculators. The company was apparently losing money on calculator sales because the $12 price was less than the $14.55 average cost that the company’s bookkeepers assigned to the product. This $14.55 figure included $10.30 of (marginal) costs caused directly by the manufacturing and marketing of each additional calculator, plus a $4.25 per-calculator share of the company’s overall general expenses (“overhead”), such as compensation of the company president. When it was accused in a court of law of trying to drive a competitor out of business by deliberately selling below cost, the company turned to marginal analysis to show that the charge was untrue and that the calculators were indeed a profitable line of business. To demonstrate this fact, a witness for the company explained that if selling the calculators really were unprofitable, then the company could increase its earnings by ceasing their production altogether. But, in fact, had the company done so, it would have lowered its profits. To see why, let’s look at the numbers again. If the company gave up the sale of 10 million calculators, its revenues would be reduced by $12 (the price of each calculator) 3 10 million units sold—a (marginal) revenue reduction of $120 million. But how much cost would it save by giving up those sales? The answer is that the cost outlay

6

EXERCISE: Does the added fixed cost change the marginal cost? Explain. What does this imply for optimal output?

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9

10

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actually caused by the production of each calculator was only the $10.30 in direct cost. Even if it stopped selling the calculators (which were just one part of its product line), the company would still have to continue to pay for costs like the salary of the company president and general advertising expenditures. In other words, none of the company’s fixed overhead costs would be saved by ending calculator production. Rather, the (marginal) cost saving would be the direct cost of $10.30 per calculator 3 the 10 million calculator output—a total cost saving of just $103 million. The bottom line was that eliminating calculators from the product line would have reduced total profit by $17 million per year—the $120 million in forgone revenue minus the $103 million cost. So, continued production of the calculators was not causing losses; on the contrary, it was contributing $17 million in profits every year, because each unit of output was bringing in $12 in revenue 2 $10.30 in marginal cost 5 $1.70. The court concluded that this reasoning was correct and used this conclusion in its decision. This case illustrates a point that is encountered frequently. The calculator manufacturer was selling its product at a price that appeared not to cover the costs but really did. The appearance stems from the fact that the cost attributable to any one of a company’s products is essentially its marginal cost—the cost the firm must pay to add the item to its product line. But bookkeepers usually don’t think in terms of marginal costs, and in their calculations they often include other types of costs that are not affected by reducing the output of the product or by eliminating its production. The same sort of issue faces airlines that offer discounted fares to students (or to senior citizens, or some other group), when those fares are lower than the average cost (including fuel cost, salaries of personnel, and so on) per passenger. If the discounted fares have the effect of filling up seats that would otherwise have flown empty, and if the fares cover more than their marginal cost (which consists only of the additional cost of selling the tickets and providing the students with a snack), then those fares clearly are adding to the airline’s profits, even though they are below average cost per passenger. Nevertheless, such fare discounts sometimes lead to lawsuits by competitors of the airlines that offer such discounted fares.

CONCLUSION: THE FUNDAMENTAL ROLE OF MARGINAL ANALYSIS

IDEAS FOR BEYOND THE FINAL EXAM

THE IMPORTANCE OF THINKING AT THE MARGIN We saw in Chapter 7 how marginal analysis helps us to understand the firm’s input choices. Similarly, in Chapters 5 and 6, it cast indispensable light on the consumer’s purchase decisions. In this chapter, it enabled us to analyze output and pricing decisions. The logic of marginal analysis applies not only to economic decisions by consumers and firms but also to decisions made by governments, universities, hospitals, and other organizations. In short, this type of analysis applies to any individual or group that must make optimal choices about the use of scarce resources. Thus, one of the most important conclusions that can be drawn from this chapter, and a conclusion brought out vividly by the examples we have just discussed, is the importance of thinking “at the margin”—one of our Ideas for Beyond the Final Exam.

Another real-life example far removed from profit maximization will illustrate how marginal criteria are useful in decision making. For years before women were first admitted to Princeton University (and to several other colleges), administrators cited the cost of the proposed admission of women as a major obstacle. They had decided in advance that any women coming to the university would constitute a net addition to the student body because, for a variety of reasons involving relations with alumni and other groups, it was not feasible to reduce the number of male students. Presumably on the basis of a calculation of average cost, some critics spoke of cost figures as high as $80 million. To economists, it was clear that the relevant figure was actually the marginal cost, or the addition to total cost that would result from the admission of the additional students. The

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women students would, of course, bring additional tuition fees (marginal revenues) to Princeton. If these fees were just sufficient to cover the amount that they would add to costs, the admission of the women would leave the university’s financial picture unaffected. A careful calculation showed that the admission of women would add far less to the university’s financial problems than the average cost figures indicated. One reason was that women’s course preferences at that time were characteristically different from men’s, and hence women frequently selected courses that were undersubscribed in exclusively male institutions. Therefore, the admission of 1,000 women to a formerly allmale institution could be expected to require fewer additional classes than if 1,000 more men had been admitted.7 More important, it was found that a number of classroom buildings were underutilized. The cost of operating these buildings was nearly fixed; their total utilization cost would be changed only slightly by the influx of women. The marginal cost for classroom space was therefore almost zero and certainly well below the average cost (the cost per student). For all of these reasons, it turned out that the relevant marginal cost was much smaller than the figures that had been considered earlier. Indeed, this cost was something like one-third of the earlier estimates. There is little doubt that this careful marginal calculation played a critical role in the admission of women to Princeton at that time and to some other universities that subsequently made use of the calculations in the Princeton analysis. More recent data, incidentally, confirmed that the marginal calculations were amply justified.

THE THEORY AND REALITY: A WORD OF CAUTION We have now completed two chapters describing how business managers can make optimal decisions. Can you go to Wall Street or Main Street and find executives calculating marginal cost and marginal revenue to decide how much to produce? Not very often—although in some important applications they do. Nor can you find consumers in stores using marginal analysis to decide what to buy. Like consumers, successful businesspeople often rely heavily on intuition and “hunches” that cannot be described by any set of rules. In fact, in a 1993 survey of CEOs conducted by Inc. magazine, nearly 20 percent of the respondents admitted to using guesswork to price their products or services. Note that we have not sought to provide a literal description of business behavior but rather a model to help us analyze and predict this behavior. The four chapters that we have just completed constitute the core of microeconomics. We will find ourselves returning again and again to the principles learned in these chapters.

| SUMMARY |

7

1. A firm can choose the quantity of its product that it wants to sell or the price that it wants to charge, but it cannot choose both because price affects the quantity demanded.

3. The demand curve of a firm is determined from the market demand curve by the strength of the competitive efforts of the rival firms in the market.

2. In economic theory, we usually assume that firms seek to maximize profits. This assumption should not be taken literally, but rather interpreted as a useful simplification of reality.

4. Marginal revenue is the additional revenue earned by increasing quantity sold by one unit. Marginal cost is the additional cost incurred by increasing production by one unit.

See Gardner Patterson, “The Education of Women at Princeton,” Princeton Alumni Weekly, 69 (September 24, 1968).

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5. Maximum profit requires the firm to choose the level of output at which marginal revenue is equal to (or most closely approximates) marginal cost.

8. It will generally pay a firm to expand its output if it is selling at a price greater than marginal cost, even if that price happens to be below average cost.

6. Geometrically, the profit-maximizing output level occurs at the highest point on the total profit curve. There the slope of the total profit curve is zero (or as close to zero as possible), meaning that marginal profit is zero.

9. Optimal decisions must be made on the basis of marginal cost and marginal revenue figures, not average cost and average revenue figures. This concept is one of the Ideas for Beyond the Final Exam.

7. A change in fixed cost will not change the profitmaximizing level of output.

| KEY TERMS | average revenue (AR) economic profit 159

160

marginal revenue (MR) optimal decision

160

total profit

156

158

total revenue (TR)

159

marginal profit 163

| TEST YOURSELF | 1. Suppose that the firm’s demand curve indicates that at a price of $10 per unit, customers will demand 2 million units of its product. Suppose that management decides to pick both price and output; the firm produces 3 million units of its product and prices them at $18 each. What will happen? 2. Suppose that a firm’s management would be pleased to increase its share of the market but if it expands its production, the price of its product will fall. Will its profits necessarily fall? Why or why not? 3. Why does it make sense for a firm to seek to maximize total profit rather than to maximize marginal profit? 4. A firm’s marginal revenue is $133 and its marginal cost is $90. What amount of profit does the firm fail to pick up by refusing to increase output by one unit? 5. Calculate average revenue (AR) and average cost (AC) in Table 3. How much profit does the firm earn at the output at which AC 5 AR? Why?

6. A firm’s total cost is $1,000 if it produces one unit, $1,600 if it produces two units, and $2,000 if it produces three units of output. Draw up a table of total, average, and marginal costs for this firm. 7. Draw an average and marginal cost curve for the firm in Test Yourself Question 6 above. Describe the relationship between the two curves. 8. A firm has the demand and total cost schedules given in the following table. If it wants to maximize profits, how much output should it produce? Quantity 1 2 3 4 5

Price $6 5 4 3 2

Total Cost $ 1.00 2.50 6.00 7.00 11.00

| DISCUSSION QUESTION | 1. “It may be rational for the management of a firm not to try to maximize profits.” Discuss the circumstances under which this statement may be true.

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| APPENDIX | The Relationships Among Total, Average, and Marginal Data You may have surmised that there is a close connection between the average revenue curve and the marginal revenue curve and that there must be a similar relationship between the average cost curve and the marginal cost curve. After all, we derived our average revenue figures from the total revenues and also calculated our marginal revenue figures from the total revenues at the various possible output levels; a similar relationship applied to costs. In fact: Marginal, average, and total figures are inextricably bound together. From any one of the three sets of figures, the other two can be calculated. The relationships among total, average, and marginal data are exactly the same for any variable—such as revenue, cost, or profit— to which the concepts apply.

To illustrate and emphasize the wide applicability of marginal analysis, we switch our example from profits, revenues, and costs to a noneconomic variable. As we are about to see, the same concepts can be applied to human body weights. We use this example because calculation of weights is more familiar to most people than calculation of profits, revenues, or costs, and it can illustrate several fundamental relationships between average and marginal figures. In Table 6, we begin with an empty room. (The total weight of occupants is equal to zero.) A person weighing 100 pounds enters; total, marginal, and average weights are all, then, 100 pounds. If this person is followed by a person weighing 140 pounds (marginal weight equals 140 pounds), the total weight increases to 240 pounds, average weight rises to 120 pounds (240/2), and so on.8 TABLE 6 Weights of Persons in a Room (in pounds)

Number of Persons in a Room

Marginal Weight

Total Weight

Average Weight

0 1 2 3 4 5 6

100 140 135 125 100 60

0 100 240 375 500 600 660

— 100 120 125 125 120 110

In this illustration, “persons in room” is analogous to units of output, “total weight” is analogous to total revenue or cost, and “marginal weight” is analogous to marginal revenue or cost in the discussions of marginal analysis in the body of the chapter. 8

The rule for converting totals to averages, and vice versa, is Rule 1a. Average weight equals total weight divided by number of persons. Rule 1b. Total weight equals average weight times number of persons.

This rule naturally applies equally well to cost, revenue, profit, or any other variable. We calculate marginal weight from total weight by working with the same subtraction process already used to calculate marginal cost and marginal revenue. Specifically: Rule 2a. The marginal weight of, say, the third person equals the total weight of three people minus the total weight of two people.

For example, when the fourth person enters the room, total weight rises from 375 to 500 pounds, and hence the corresponding marginal weight is 500 2 375 5 125 pounds, as is shown in the second column of Table 6. We can also do the reverse—calculate total from marginal weight—through an addition process. Rule 2b. The total weight of, say, three people equals the (marginal) weight of the first person who enters the room plus the (marginal) weight of the second person, plus the (marginal) weight of the third person.

You can verify Rule 2b by referring to Table 6, which shows that the total weight of three persons, 375 pounds, is indeed equal to 100 1 140 1 135 pounds, the sum of the preceding marginal weights. A similar relation holds for any other total weight figure in the table, a fact that you should verify. In addition to these familiar arithmetic relationships, there are two other useful relationships. Rule 3. With an exception (fixed cost) that was discussed in Chapter 7, the marginal, average, and total figures for the first person must all be equal.

That is, when there is only one person in the room whose weight is X pounds, the average weight will obviously be X, the total weight must be X, and the marginal weight must also be X (because the total must have risen from zero to X pounds). Put another way, when the marginal person is alone, he or she is obviously the average person and also represents the totality of all relevant persons. Our final and very important relationship is Rule 4. If marginal weight is lower than average weight, then average weight must decrease when the number of persons increases. If marginal weight exceeds average weight, average weight must increase when the number of persons increases. If marginal and average weight are

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Part 2

The Building Blocks of Demand and Supply

equal, the average weight must remain constant when the number of persons increases.

These three possibilities are all illustrated in Table 6. Notice, for example, that when the third person enters the room, the average weight increases from 120 to 125 pounds. That increase occurs because this person’s (marginal) weight is 135 pounds, which is above the average and therefore pulls up the average, as Rule 4 requires. Similarly, when the sixth person—who is a 60pound child—enters the room, the average decreases from 120 to 110 pounds because marginal weight, 60 pounds, is below average weight and so pulls the average down. It is essential to avoid a common misunderstanding of this rule. It does not state, for example, that if the average figure is rising, the marginal figure must be rising. When the average rises, the marginal figure may rise, fall, or remain unchanged. The arrival of two persons, both well above the average weight, will push the average up in two successive steps even if the second new arrival is lighter than the first. We see such a case in Table 6, where average weight rises successively from 100 to 120 to 125 pounds, whereas the marginal weight falls from 140 to 135 to 125 pounds.

GRAPHICAL REPRESENTATION OF MARGINAL AND AVERAGE CURVES We have shown how, from a curve of total profit (or total cost or total anything else), we can determine the corresponding marginal figure. In the chapter, we noted repeatedly that the marginal value at any particular point is equal to the slope of the corresponding total curve at that point. But for some purposes, it is convenient to use a graph that records marginal and average values directly rather than deriving them from the curve of totals. We can obtain such a graph by plotting the data in a table of average and marginal figures, such as Table 6. The result looks like the graph shown in Figure 7. In that graph, the number of persons in the room appears on the horizontal axis and the corresponding average and marginal figures appear on the vertical axis. The solid dots represent average weights; the small circles represent

FIGURE 7 The Relationship between Marginal and Average Curves

Marginal and Average Weight (pounds)

174

100

E C

A

D F Marginal weight

50

0

Average weight

B

150

1

2

3

4

5

6

Number of Persons

marginal weights. For example, point A shows that when two people are in the room, their average weight is 120 pounds, as recorded on the third line of Table 6. Similarly, point B on the graph represents information provided in the next column of the table—that is, that the marginal weight of the third person who enters the room is 135 pounds. We have connected these points into a marginal curve and an average curve, represented, respectively, by the solid and the broken curves in the diagram. This is the representation of marginal and average values economists most frequently use. Figure 7 illustrates two of our rules. Rule 3 says that for the first unit, the marginal and average values will be the same; that is precisely why the two curves start out together at point C. The graph also depicts Rule 4 between points C and E: Where the average curve is rising, the marginal curve lies above the average. (Notice that over part of this range, the marginal curve falls even though the average curve is rising; Rule 4 says nothing about the rise or fall of the marginal curve.) We see also that over range EF, where the average curve is falling, the marginal curve is below the average curve, again in accord with Rule 4. Finally, at point E, where the average curve is neither rising nor falling, the marginal curve meets the average curve; the average and marginal weights are equal at that point, so the marginal weights do not pull the average weight either upward or downward.

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Chapter 8

Output, Price, and Profit: The Importance of Marginal Analysis

175

| TEST YOURSELF | 1. Suppose that the following table is your record of exam grades in your Principles of Eonomics course: Use these data to make up a table of total, average, and marginal grades for the five exams. Exam Date September 30 October 28 November 26 December 13 January 24

Grade 65 75 90 85 95

2. From the data in your exam-grade table in Test Yourself Question 1, illustrate each of the rules mentioned in this appendix. Be sure to point out an instance where the marginal grade falls but the average grade rises.

Comment A slow start A big improvement Happy Thanksgiving! Slipped a little A fast finish!

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Investing in Business: Stocks and Bonds A bargain that is going to become a greater bargain is no bargain. M ARTI N SHU BI K, YAL E U NI VE R S I TY

A

firm does more than select inputs, outputs, and prices—which were the topics of previous chapters. In this chapter, we discuss how real firms finance their activities—notably with stocks and bonds. These days, a very large proportion of the nation’s college graduates invests money in the stock and bond markets. You probably will as well, if you don’t already. For this reason, it is important to understand something about how these markets work, but please do not think that this chapter will turn you into a super speculator who can beat the market consistently. Too many investors have thought that way and ended up losing their life’s savings. Indeed, the main lesson of this chapter is that, for good reason, the future behavior of the stock market is virtually unpredictable. As you look toward the future, the stock market will undoubtedly go up and undoubtedly go down, but the unanswerable question is: When? History repeatedly teaches us that lesson, and as philosopher George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”—as many stock market investors have done.1

C O N T E N T S PUZZLE 1: WHAT IN THE WORLD HAPPENED TO

What Determines Stock Prices? The Role of Expected Company Earnings

PUZZLE 2: THE STOCK MARKET’S

BUYING STOCKS AND BONDS

THE STOCK MARKET?

UNPREDICTABILITY

1

Selecting a Portfolio: Diversification

CORPORATIONS AND THEIR UNIQUE CHARACTERISTICS

STOCK EXCHANGES AND THEIR FUNCTIONS

Financing Corporate Activity: Stocks and Bonds Plowback, or Retained Earnings

Regulation of the Stock Market Stock Exchanges and Corporate Capital Needs

SPECULATION PUZZLE 2 RESOLVED: UNPREDICTABLE STOCK

PRICES AS “RANDOM WALKS”

PUZZLE 1 REDUX: THE BOOM AND BUST OF THE

U.S. STOCK MARKET

George Santayana, The Life of Reason: Or, The Phases of Human Progress, Vol. I (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1905–1906).

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PUZZLE 1:

WHAT IN THE WORLD HAPPENED TO THE STOCK MARKET?

NASDAQ Stock Market Composite Index, 1990–2007

Mar. 00

5000

4000

3000

2000 Oct. 98

Sep. 01

1000

Ja

nJu 90 lJa 90 nJu 91 lJa 91 nJu 92 lJa 92 nJu 93 lJa 93 nJu 94 lJa 94 nJu 95 lJa 95 nJu 96 lJa 96 nJu 97 lJa 97 nJu 98 lJa 98 nJu 99 lJa 99 nJu 00 lJa 00 nJu 01 lJa 01 nJu 02 lJa 02 nJu 03 lJa 03 nJu 04 lJa 04 nJu 05 lJa 05 nJu 06 lJa 06 nJu 07 l-0 7

0

SOURCE: http://www.freelunch.com.

F I GURE 1

NASDAQ Composite Index (Feb. 5, 1971 = 100)

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. Figure 1 shows the remarkable behavior of share prices on the NASDAQ stock market (which we will describe later in the chapter) between 1990 and 2007. It looks a bit like the Rocky Mountains, rising spectacularly from the autumn of 1998 to early 2000, and then falling dramatically back down to earth. The numbers on the scale tell you that the index soared from about 1,600 in October 1998 to about 4,800 in March 2000—an astonishing gain of 200 percent in less than a year and a half! But by the fall of 2001, the index was back to about where it had been in October 1998. All in all, it was one of the most spectacular booms and busts in stock market history. What in the world happened? In all honesty, most of the world’s best economists and leading financial experts were left puzzled by this episode. As we will learn in this chapter, the value of a share of stock is supposed to reflect the current and future profits of the company that issues the stock. But that theory of stock prices will not explain why shares of Amazon.com, the online retailer, once sold for about $105 per share and then plunged to around $6 (it was about $131 as this book went to press), or why shares of Priceline.com (which sells airline tickets and books hotel reservations online) once sold for about $165 per share and dropped to around $4 (as against $241 at press time). Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, once called the phenomenon that gripped America in the boom years “irrational exuberance”—and it was certainly that. One of the authors of this book called the upside of Figure 1 the “Wile E. Coyote stock market,” after that old nemesis in Road Runner cartoons, who would run off cliffs and yet somehow manage to remain in the air—until he looked down.

Apparently, investors in U.S. technology stocks “looked down” around March 2000. But why then? Why not before? And what made stock prices rise so high in the first place? As we said, the answers to such questions remain shrouded in mystery. Even so, we will be able to throw a little light on the subject by the end of the chapter.

PUZZLE 2:

THE STOCK MARKET’S UNPREDICTABILITY

The stock market is obviously something of an enigma. No other economic activity is reported in such detail in so many newspapers and other media and followed with such concern by so many people. Yet few activities have so successfully eluded prediction of their future. There is no shortage of wellpaid “experts” prepared to forecast the future of the market or the price of a particular stock or the earnings of the company to which the stock price is related. But there are real questions about what these experts deliver.

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For example, a famous study of leading stock market analysts’ predictions of company earnings (on which they based their stock price forecasts) reports: [W]e wrote to 19 major Wall Street firms . . . among the most respected names in the investment business. We requested—and received—past earnings predictions on how these firms felt earnings for specific companies would behave over both a one-year and a five-year period. These estimates . . . were . . . compared with actual results to see how well the analysts forecast shortrun and long-run earnings changes. . . . Bluntly stated, the careful estimates of security analysts (based on industry studies, plant visits, etc.) do very little better than those that would be obtained by simple extrapolation of past trends. . . . For example . . . the analysts’ estimates were compared [with] the assumption that every company in the economy would enjoy a growth in earnings approximating the long-run rate of growth of the national income. It often turned out that . . . this naïve forecasting model . . . would make smaller errors in forecasting long-run earnings growth than . . . [did] the professional forecasts of the analysts. . . . When confronted with the poor record of their five-year growth estimates, the security analysts honestly, if sheepishly, admitted that five years ahead is really too far in advance to make reliable projections. They protested that, although long-term projections are admittedly important, they really ought to be judged on their ability to project earnings changes one year ahead. Believe it or not, it turned out that their one-year forecasts were even worse than their fiveyear projections.2

It has been said that an investor may as well pick stocks by throwing darts at the stock market page—it is far cheaper to buy a set of darts than to obtain the apparently useless advice of a professional analyst. Indeed, there have been at least two experiments, one by a U.S. senator and one by Forbes magazine, in which stocks picked by dart-throwing actually outperformed the mutual funds, the stocks of which are selected by experts. Later in this chapter we will suggest an explanation for this poor performance.

CORPORATIONS AND THEIR UNIQUE CHARACTERISTICS Stocks and bonds are created by corporations and are among the primary tools that these companies use to acquire the funds they need to operate. Corporations play a crucial role in the U.S. economy. Revenues of the top 50 American corporations totaled $4.9 trillion in 2008, or nearly 35 percent of the country’s estimated $14.4 trillion gross domestic product (GDP). Some of these are true industrial giants. Wal-Mart Stores alone generated $378 billion in revenue in 2008, and Exxon Mobil and Chevron took in more than $372 billion and $210 billion, respectively. The combined revenues of just these three firms amounted to considerably more than the GDP of Belgium (and Denmark, Ireland, Norway, Switzerland, and many other countries). But only 20 percent of American firms are incorporated, because most firms are small. Even many corporations are quite small— 40 percent have business receipts of less than $100,000 per year.3 That said, almost all large American firms are corporations. It’s a word you’ve heard used many times. But what, exactly, is a “corporation”? A corporation is a type of firm that is defined by law and to which the law assigns special privileges and special obligations. Three noteworthy features that their legal status entails are the following: • Special limits are placed on the losses that may be suffered by those who invest in these firms. • These firms are subjected to types of taxation from which other firms are exempt. Burton G. Malkiel, A Random Walk Down Wall Street (New York: W. W. Norton; 1990), pp. 140–141. “Fortune 500: The 500 Largest U.S. Corporations,” Fortune magazine, April 5, 2004, p. 289; and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD in Figures, 2004, http://new.sourceoecd.org. 2 3

A corporation is a firm that has the legal status of a fictional individual. This fictional individual is owned by a number of people, called its stockholders, and is run by a set of elected officers and a board of directors, whose chairperson is often also in a powerful position.

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• The corporation is considered to be an entity that is distinct from any of its owners or its management, so that the corporation can outlast the association of any and all of the individuals who are currently connected with the firm.

Limited liability is a legal obligation of a firm’s owners to pay back company debts only with the money they have already invested in the firm.

Let us consider the logic behind these three features. To begin with, although it may seem strange, a corporation is considered an individual in the eyes of the law. Therefore, its earnings, like those of other individuals, are taxed. Thus the legal status leads to what is called “double taxation” of the stockholders. Unlike the earnings of other firms, corporate earnings are taxed twice—once when they are earned by the company and a second time when they go to investors in the form of dividends (and are subject to the personal income tax). This disadvantage is counterbalanced by an important legal advantage, however: Any corporate debt is regarded as that fictitious individual’s obligation, not any one stockholder’s liability. In this way, stockholders benefit from the protection of limited liability—they can lose no more money than they have invested in the firm. In contrast, if you are part or sole owner of a firm that is not a corporation, and it loses money and cannot repay its debts, you can be sued by the people to whom the money is owed, who may be able to force you to pay them out of your own bank account or by selling your vacation home. Limited liability is the main secret of the success of the corporate organizational form, and the reason that some corporations grow so big. Thanks to that provision, individuals throughout the world are willing to invest money in firms whose operations they do not understand and whose management personnel they do not know. Each shareholder receives in return a claim on the firm’s profits and, at least in principle, a portion of the company’s ownership. The corporate form is a boon to investors because their liability for loss is limited to their investments. There is also a major disadvantage to this form of business organization: Corporate income is taxed twice.

Financing Corporate Activity: Stocks and Bonds

A common stock (also called a share) of a corporation is a piece of paper that gives the holder of the stock a share of the ownership of the company. A bond is simply an IOU sold by a corporation that promises to pay the holder of the bond a fixed sum of money at the specified maturity date and some other fixed amount of money (the coupon or interest payment) every year up to the date of maturity.

When a corporation needs money to add to its plant or equipment, or to finance other types of investment, it may reinvest its own earnings (rather than paying them out as dividends to stockholders), or print and sell new stock certificates or new bonds, or take out a loan. Stocks and bonds, in the last analysis, are pieces of paper printed by the firm under a variety of legal safeguards. If it can find buyers, the firm can sell these pieces of paper to the investing public when it wants to obtain more money to invest in its operations. How can a firm obtain money in exchange for such printed paper as a stock or bond certificate? Doesn’t the process seem a bit like counterfeiting? If done improperly, there are indeed grounds for the suspicion. But, carried out appropriately, it is a perfectly reasonable economic process. First, let’s define our terms. Common stock represents partial ownership of a corporation. For example, if a company issues 100,000 shares, then a person who owns 1,000 shares owns 1 percent of the company and is entitled to 1 percent of the company’s dividends, the corporation’s annual payments to stockholders. This shareholder’s vote also normally counts for 1 percent of the total votes in an election of corporate officers or in a referendum on corporate policy. Bonds differ from stocks in several ways. First, the purchaser of a corporation’s stock buys a share of its ownership and some control over its affairs, whereas a bond purchaser simply lends money to the firm and obtains no part of its ownership. Second, whereas stockholders have no idea how much they will receive when they sell their stocks or how much they will receive in dividends each year, bondholders know with a high degree of certainty how much money they will be paid if they hold their bonds to maturity (the date the firm has promised to repay the loan). For instance, a bond with a face value of $1,000 and an $80 coupon (the firm’s annual interest payment to the bondholder) that matures in 2010 will provide $80 per year every year until 2010, and the firm will repay the bondholder’s $1,000 in 2010. Unless the company goes bankrupt,

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this repayment schedule is guaranteed. Third, bondholders legally have a prior claim on company earnings, which means the stockholders receive no money until the firm has paid its bondholders. For all these reasons, bonds are considered less risky investments than stocks.4 To return to the question we asked earlier, a new issue of stocks and bonds is generally not like counterfeiting. As long as the funds obtained from the sale of the new securities5 are used effectively to increase a firm’s profit-earning capacity, these funds will automatically yield any required repayment and appropriate interest and dividends to purchasers. Occasionally, this payout does not happen. One of the favorite practices of the more notorious nineteenth-century market manipulators was “watering” company stocks—issuing stocks with little or nothing to back them up. The term is originally derived from the practice of some cattle dealers who would force their animals to drink large quantities of water just before bringing them to be weighed for sale.

Stocks and bonds are also called securities.

Similarities Between Stocks and Bonds In reality, the differences between stocks and bonds are not as clear-cut as just described. Two relevant misconceptions are worth noting. First, the ownership represented by a few shares of a company’s stock may be more symbolic than real. A person who holds 0.02 percent of IBM Corporation stock—which, by the way, is a very large investment— exercises no real control over IBM’s operations. In fact, many economists believe that the ownership of large corporations is so diffuse that stockholders or stockholder groups rarely have any effective control over management. In this view, a corporation’s management is a largely independent decision-making body; as long as it keeps enough cash flowing to stockholders to prevent discontent and organized rebellion, management can do anything it wants within the law. Looked at in this way, stockholders, like bondholders, merely provide loans to the company. The only real difference between the two groups, according to this interpretation, is that stockholders’ loans are riskier and therefore entitled to higher payments. Second, bonds actually can be a very risky investment. People who try to sell their bonds before maturity may find that the market price happens to be low; so if they need to raise cash in a hurry, they may incur substantial losses. Also, bondholders may be exposed to losses from inflation. Whether the $1,000 promised to the bondholder at the 2010 maturity date represents substantial (or very little) purchasing power depends on what happens to the general price level in the meantime (that is, how much price inflation occurs). No one can predict the price level this far in advance with any accuracy. Finally, a firm can issue bonds with little backing; that is, the firm may own little valuable property that it can use as a guarantee of repayment to the lender—the bondholder. This is often true of “junk bonds,” and it helps to explain their high risk.

Inflation occurs when prices in an economy rise rapidly. The rate of inflation is calculated by averaging the percentage growth rate of the prices of a selected sample of commodities.

Bond Prices and Interest Rates What makes bond prices go up and down? A straightforward relationship exists between bond prices and current interest rates: Whenever one goes up, the other must go down. The term interest rate refers to the amount that borrowers currently pay to lenders per dollar of the money borrowed—it is the current market price of a loan. For example, suppose that J.C. Penney issued 15-year bonds when interest rates were comparatively low, so the company had to pay only 6 percent to sell the bonds. People who invested $1,000 in those bonds received a contract that promised them $60 per year for 15 years plus the return of their $1,000 at the end of that period. Suppose, however, that interest rates rise, so that new 15-year bonds of similar companies now pay 12 percent. An investor with $1,000 can now buy a bond that offers $120 per year. Obviously, no one will now pay $1,000 for a bond that promises only $60 per year. Consequently, the market price of the old J.C. Penney bonds must fall.

The interest rate is the amount that borrowers currently pay to lenders per dollar of the money borrowed—it is the current market price of a loan.

An important exception involves so-called junk bonds—very risky bonds that became popular in the 1980s. They were used heavily by people trying to purchase enough of a corporation’s stock to acquire control of that firm. 5 Stocks and bonds are also called securities. 4

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This example is not entirely hypothetical. Until a few years ago, bonds issued much earlier—at interest rates of 6 percent or lower—were still in circulation. In the 1980s’ markets, when interest rates were well above 6 percent, such bonds sold for prices far below their original values. When interest rates rise, the prices of previously issued bonds with lower interest earnings must fall. For the same reason, when interest rates fall, the prices of previously issued bonds must rise.

It follows that as interest rates change because of changes in government policy or other reasons, bond prices fluctuate. That is one reason why bonds can be a risky investment.

Corporate Choice Between Stocks and Bonds If a corporation chooses to finance the construction of new factories and equipment through the issue of new stocks or bonds, how does it determine whether bonds or stocks best suit its purposes? Two considerations are of prime importance. Although issuing bonds generally exposes a firm to more risk than issuing stocks, the corporation usually expects to pay more money to stockholders over the long run. In other words, to the firm that issues them, bonds are cheaper but riskier. The decision about which is better for the firm therefore involves a trade-off between the two considerations of expense and risk. Why are bonds risky to a corporation? When it issues $20 million in new bonds at 10 percent, a company commits itself to pay out $2 million every year of the bond’s life, whether business is booming or the firm is losing money. If the firm is unable to meet its obligation to bondholders in some year, bankruptcy may result. Stocks do not burden the company with any such risk, because the firm does not promise to pay stockholders any fixed amount. Stockholders simply receive whatever is left of the company’s net earnings after the firm makes its payments to bondholders. If nothing is left to pay the new stockholders in some years, legally speaking, that is just their bad luck. The higher risk faced by stockholders is the reason they normally obtain higher average payments than bondholders. To the firm that issues them, bonds are riskier than stocks because they commit the firm to make a fixed annual payment, even in years when it is losing money. For the same reason, stocks are riskier than bonds to the buyers of securities. Therefore, stockholders expect to be paid more money than bondholders.

Plowback, or Retained Earnings Plowback (or retained earnings) is the portion of a corporation’s profits that management decides to keep and reinvest in the firm’s operations rather than paying out as dividends to stockholders.

The final major source of funds for corporations, in addition to loans and the issue of stocks and bonds, is plowback, or retained earnings. For example, if a company earns $30 million after taxes and decides to pay only $10 million in dividends to its stockholders and reinvest the remaining $20 million in the firm, that $20 million is called “plowback.” When business is profitable, corporate managers will often prefer plowback to other sources of funding. For one thing, plowback usually involves lower risk. Also, plowback, unlike other sources of funding, does not come under the scrutiny of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the government agency that regulates stocks.6 And, of course, plowback does not depend on the availability of eager customers for new company stocks and bonds. An issue of new securities can be a disappointment if there is little public demand when they are offered, but plowback runs no such risk. Above all, a plowback decision generally does not call attention to the degree of success of management’s operations, as a new stock issue does. When stock is issued, the SEC, potential buyers, and their professional advisers may all scrutinize the company carefully. No management has a perfect record, and the process may reveal things management would prefer to be overlooked. 6 The Securities and Exchange Commission, established in 1934, protects the interests of people who buy securities. It requires firms that issue stock and other securities to provide information about their financial condition, and it regulates the issue and trading of securities.

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What Determines Stock Prices? The Role of Expected Company Earnings

120 105

100 80

76

60 Percent

Another reason for plowback’s attractiveness is that issuing new stocks and bonds is usually an expensive and lengthy process. The SEC requires companies to gather masses of data in a prospectus—a document that describes a company’s financial condition—before any new issue is approved. Figure 2 shows the relative importance of each of the different funding sources to U.S. nonfinancial corporations. It indicates that plowback accounted for more than 100 percent of total corporate financing in 2007, while new bond issues and other forms of debt accounted for another 76 percent. How can this be? As the figure shows, new stock sales amounted to a stunning minus 81 percent of corporate financing, because corporations reduced the number of their stocks in the public’s hands by buying some back.

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SOURCE: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, “Flow of Funds Accounts of the United States, Flows and Outstandings, Third Quarter 2007,” Washington, D.C., December 6, 2007 (data for non-farm, non-financial corporate business).

Chapter 9

40 20 0 Plowback

−20

New bonds and other debt

−40

People invest in stocks because they believe (and −60 hope) that the prices of the stocks they have purchased will rise. But will they? To answer that question, one −80 should understand just what determines the price of a stock—but we do not really know the answer. We do know that, as with other things sold in markets, prices are determined by supply and demand. That merely raises the next question: What explains the behavior of supply and demand? That answer depends on the actions and expectations of the people who have stocks to sell or who wish to buy. There is one apparently logical answer, although later we will see that there are reasons to question that explanation. This answer is that a stock is simply a share of the ownership of the firm that has issued it. The stock will therefore be valuable if the firm earns a good deal of money in the future, and it will rise in price if the firm earns more than investors had expected. The stock will fall in price if the earnings of the firm are poor or disappointing. That is why professional stock analysts who sell their advice to investors devote most of their efforts to studying individual firms and their markets, hoping to gain some insights into each company’s future earnings prospects. Though the stock market has generally been a good investment in the long run, it can be very risky over shorter periods, as we have seen. During the Great Depression that began in 1929, stock prices dropped precipitately and remained low for years. They did not re-attain their 1929 peaks until 1954. More recently, we have just lived through a decade in which stock market gains were zero.

–81

New stocks

FI GURE 2 Sources of New Funds for U.S. Corporations, 2007

BUYING STOCKS AND BONDS Although investors can purchase stocks and bonds through any brokerage firm, not all brokers charge the same fees. Bargain brokerage houses advertise in the newspapers’ financial pages, offering investors very little service—no advice, no research, no other frills—other than merely buying or selling what the customer wants them to, at lower fees than those charged by higher-service brokerage firms. And during the late 1990s, it became possible to buy and sell shares over the Internet at very low cost—and millions of Americans did so. Many investors are not aware of the various ways in which they can purchase (or sell) stocks. Two noteworthy arrangements are (1) a market order purchase, which simply tells the broker to buy a specified quantity of stock at the best price the market currently offers, and (2) a limit order, which is an agreement to buy a given amount of stock when its price falls to

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SOURCE: © The New Yorker Collection, 1957. Richard Decker from http://www.cartoonbank.com. All Rights Reserved.

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“To hell with a balanced portfolio. I want to sell my Fenwick Chemical and sell it now.” Equities includes individual stocks, stock mutual funds, hybrid mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, and variable annuities. Portfolio diversification means inclusion of a number and variety of stocks, bonds, and other such items in an individual’s portfolio. If the individual owns airline stocks, for example, diversification requires the purchase of a stock or bond in a very different industry, such as breakfast cereal production. A mutual fund, in which individual investors can buy shares, is a private investment firm that holds a portfolio of securities. Investors can choose among a large variety of mutual funds, such as stock funds, bond funds, and so forth. An index fund is a mutual fund that chooses a particular stock price index and then buys the stocks (or most of the stocks) that are included in the index. The value of an investment in an index fund depends on what happens to the prices of all stocks in that index. A stock price index, such as the S&P 500, is an average of the prices of a large set of stocks. These stocks are selected to represent the price movements of the entire stock market, or some specified segment of the market, and the chosen set is rarely changed.

a specified level. If the investor offers to buy at $18, then the broker will purchase shares if and when the market price falls to $18 per share or less. One recent survey estimated that, in 2008, 47 percent of U.S. households (54.5 million) owned equities7 and/or bonds—up from 39 percent of U.S. households in 1989, but down from a peak of about 57 percent of households in 2001. Of these, 60 percent of U.S. households owned both equities and bonds, 36 percent owned only equities, and 4 percent owned only bonds.8

Selecting a Portfolio: Diversification

Perhaps the first rule of safe investing is: Always diversify— never put all your eggs in one basket.9 A person or an organization’s holdings of securities from several different corporations is called a portfolio of investments. A portfolio tends to be far less risky than any of the individual securities it contains because of the benefits of portfolio diversification. Let’s see why. If, for example, Alex divides his holdings among Companies A, B, and C, then his portfolio may perform satisfactorily overall even if Company A goes broke. Moreover, suppose that Company A specializes in producing luxury items, which do well in prosperous periods but very badly during recessions, whereas Company B sells cheap clothing, whose cyclical demand pattern differs greatly from that of Company A. If Alex holds stock in both companies, his overall risk is obviously less than if he owned stock in only one. All other things being equal, a portfolio containing many different types of securities tends to be less risky than a portfolio with fewer types of securities. Increasingly, institutional investors, such as mutual funds, have adopted portfolios composed of broad ranges of stocks typifying those offered by the entire stock market. Mutual funds are now among the largest U.S. investors in securities. They offer their customers portfolios of various groups of domestic stocks, foreign stocks, and bonds. Small investors can easily put their money into these funds, thereby reducing the risks of owning individual stocks and ensuring that the overall market does not significantly outperform their portfolios. Mutual fund transactions can be carried out by telephone or over the Internet, and investors can also easily check on the past performance of the different funds and obtain other pertinent information. Investors purchasing mutual fund shares should check on the fees charged by different funds, because fees vary surprisingly widely from one fund to another—and the difference can have a large effect on the relative earnings of an investment in a fund. One kind of mutual fund, called an index fund, buys the securities used in one of the standard stock price indexes (such as Standard & Poor’s 500—known as the S&P 500—or the broader Wilshire 5000 Index). A stock price index is an average of the prices of a group of stocks—weighted by the size of each company—that are believed to be representative of the overall stock market (or some specialized segment, such as Far Eastern stocks). When you invest in an index fund, the return on your money will therefore reflect the performance of the entire market, rather than any one or a few securities that you or your broker might have selected instead. “A cheap alternative to traditional fund management arose more than 30 years ago, in the form of [index funds that simply buy and hold on to a large representative sample of securities] such as the S&P 500, [rarely incurring the cost of buying or selling]. . . . small investors ought to worry about cost. Figures from John Bogle, founder of the fund giant Vanguard, show that an S&P 500 index-fund returned 12.3% a year between 1980 and 2005, The term equities includes individual stocks, stock mutual funds, hybrid mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, and variable annuities. 8 Investment Company Institute and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, Equity and Bond Ownership in America: 2008, 2008, pp. 5–8, accessed online at http://www.ici.org/pdf/rpt_08_equity_owners.pdf. 9 This was a bitter lesson for employees of Enron, the giant firm that went bankrupt so spectacularly in 2001. Many of its workers invested much of their savings in high-priced Enron stocks and lost virtually everything when the price of Enron stock later plunged. 7

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“What Is a Share of Google Worth?” (As this book went to press, Google was selling for about $565 a share.)

SOURCE: © AP IMAGES / Ben Margot

It almost goes without saying that Google is one of the world’s leading brands. Its Internet search engine is so ubiquitous that its very name is a verb for looking up information about someone or something. So when its founders decided to “go public” and offer shares of the company for the public to buy, the announcement set off tremendous speculation about what the company would be worth. Google itself predicted a jaw-dropping price range of $108 to $135 for its shares, which would have translated into a company value of $36 billion dollars. That would put Google right up there with the bluest of the “blue chip” stocks—of the thousands of publicly listed companies in the United States, only about 70 companies have a market value that high.* On August 19, 2004, Google made its debut on the NASDAQ stock market. Trading under the ticker symbol GOOG (you can “google it,” if you like), the stock opened at $100, which was almost 18 percent higher than its initial offering price of $85. More than 22 million shares changed hands on that first day of trading, with Google selling a total of 19.6 million shares, thus raising about $1.2 billion for the company. That price implied a market value of $27.2 billion. Not bad for an idea conceived by two Stanford University grad students!

SOURCES: Paul R. La Monica, “Google Jumps 18% in Debut,” CNN Money, August 19, 2004, http://money.cnn.com; Ben Berkowitz, “Is Google Worth $135 a Share?,” MSN Money, July 26, 2004, http://www.msn.com; Ben Elgin, “Commentary: Google This: Investor Beware,” Business Week Online, August 9, 2004, http://www .businessweek.com; “Financial Release: Google Inc. Prices Initial Public Offering of Class A Common Stock,” August 18, 2004, http://www.investor.google.com; and * “2004 Leaders: The Business Week Global 1000,” Business Week, July 26, 2004, http://www.businessweekonline.com.

whereas the average mutual fund investor, because of costs and poor timing, earned just 7.3%. That makes an enormous difference to wealth: $10,000 invested in the index fund grew to $170, 800; a typical mutual-fund investor saw his money grow to just to $48, 200.” (Source: The Economist, March 1, 2008, pp. 15–18.) Institutional money managers increasingly use computer programs to decide on their portfolios and to buy or sell huge portfolios of stocks simultaneously and rapidly. Since 1982, some traders have also allowed their computers to decide when to jump in and make massive sales or purchases. This practice is called program trading. In 2003, program trading accounted for about 40 percent of the total New York Stock Exchange volume and a considerable amount of the volume in other stock exchanges. Program trading was heavily criticized for aggravating price fluctuations and contributing to the stock market crash of October 1987. Restrictions are now in place that curb program trading when stock markets decline sharply.

STOCK EXCHANGES AND THEIR FUNCTIONS The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE)—“The Big Board”—is perhaps the world’s most prestigious stock market. Located on Wall Street in New York City, it is “the establishment” of the securities industry. The NYSE deals with only the best-known and most heavily traded securities—2,447 companies in all, as of the end of 2008. Leading brokerage firms hold 1,366 “seats” on the stock exchange, which enable them to trade directly on the exchange floor. (In the NYSE’s early years, members sat in assigned seats during roll call; the term lost its literal meaning with the advent of continuous trading in 1871.) Seats are traded on the open market. As of 2005, a seat on the exchange went for $3.5 million. In 2008, the NYSE handled almost 36 percent of all stock market transactions, on average, in the United States (measured in volume of shares). A number of regional exchanges—such as the Chicago, Pacific, Philadelphia, Boston, and Cincinnati Stock Exchanges—deal in many of the stocks handled on the NYSE but mainly serve large institutional customers such as Copyright 2011 Cengage Learning, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part.

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SOURCE: © PETER MORGAN/REUTERS/LANDOV

banks, insurance companies, and mutual funds. In addition to these regional exchanges, the American Stock Exchange, acquired in 2008 by the NYSE’s parent company, NYSE Euronext, handles about 10 percent of the total stock traded in the United States. The remainder of all stock transactions are carried by NASDAQ (also known as the Nasdaq Stock Market), which draws its name from the National Association of Securities Dealers.10 It is the home of most of the “tech” stocks that soared in the late 1990s, plummeted in 2000–2002, and have now returned to their pre-boom levels. Unlike the NYSE, NASDAQ has no physical trading floor, although it does have an outdoor display at its headquarters in New York City’s Times Square, where a spectacular eight-story LED screen runs a continuous stock ticker, delivers market news, and shows advertisements and logos of NASDAQ member companies. All of its transactions are carried out on a computer network, with NASDAQ handling the stocks of approximately 3,300 companies, including such giants as Intel and Microsoft. In recent years, the established stock markets have faced competition from another source. With the rapid growth of the Internet, people are now buying and selling stocks directly through their home computers. It is estimated that the number of online trading accounts at major U.S. brokerages increased from 1.5 million in 1997 to 19.7 million at the end of 2001, and topped 50 million in 2004.11 According to one estimate, 12 million American households will be trading online by 2011—an increase of 48 percent from 8.1 million households in 2006.12

Regulation of the Stock Market Both the government and the industry itself regulate the U.S. securities markets. At the base of the regulatory pyramid, stock brokerage firms maintain compliance departments to oversee their own operations. At the next level, the NYSE, the American Stock Exchange, NASDAQ, and the regional exchanges are responsible for monitoring their member firms’ business practices, funding adequacy, compliance, and integrity. They also use sophisticated computer surveillance systems to scrutinize trading activity. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is the federal government agency that oversees the market’s self-regulation.

You are standing on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, a crowded and noisy set of rooms cluttered with people, hundreds of computer monitors, and other electronic paraphernalia. It is a high-tech space in a 93-year-old architectural relic of bygone days. Around the floor are 17 stations, or “trading posts,” presided over by specialists, each assigned responsibility for trading a particular set of stocks. Suddenly the floor’s frenetic activity focuses on one specialist’s post. News has just come in that one of the companies whose stock she handles has earned more in the previous quarter than was expected. Brokers crowd around her, calling out orders to buy and sell the company’s stock, as its price rises rapidly in the wake of the good news. Deals are completed verbally, as clerks record the trades and enter them into the computerized tape, making the information instantly available all over the globe.

SOURCE: AP Photo/Gregory Bull

You Are There: An Event on the Trading Floor of the New York Stock Exchange

SOURCE: Murray Teitelbaum, Communications Division, New York Stock Exchange.

The NASD and Nasdaq have been separated legally. The New York Times 2004 Almanac, ed. John W. Wright (New York: Penguin Group, 2003), p. 342, which cites Gómez, Inc., an Internet research firm in Lincoln, Massachusetts; and the Wall Street Journal, “Trading Stocks Online,” http://investing.wsj.com, which cites Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 12 Bill Doyle, US Online Trading Forecast: 2006 to 2011 (Cambridge, Mass.: Forrester Research), February 1, 2007. 10 11

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One example of these self-imposed rules involves the steps that markets adopted after the October 1987 stock market crash to cushion future price falls. Starting in 1988, with amendments since then, the NYSE and other stock markets adopted a series of rules called circuit breakers, which now halt all trading for one hour, two hours, or the remainder of the trading day when the Dow Jones Industrial Average (a widely followed average price of a sample of stocks) declines below its previous day’s closing value by defined percentage amounts (which are adjusted every quarter). These restrictions on trading vary with the severity of the drop in the Dow and with the time of day when the drop occurs. Circuit breakers were designed to head off panics among market participants and forestall crashes like the ones in October 1929 and October 1987.

Stock Exchanges and Corporate Capital Needs Although corporations often raise needed funds by selling stock, they do not normally do so through the stock exchanges. New stock issues are typically handled by a special type of bank, called an investment bank. In contrast, the stock markets trade almost exclusively in “secondhand securities”—stocks in the hands of individuals and others who bought them earlier and now wish to sell them. Thus, the stock market does not provide funds to corporations needing financing to expand their productive activities. The markets provide money only to persons who already hold previously issued stocks. Nevertheless, stock exchanges perform two critically important functions for corporate financing. First, by providing a secondhand market for stocks, they make individual investment in a company much less risky. Investors know that if they need money, they can always sell their stocks to other investors or to stock market specialists at the current

Corporate Scandals

. . . After a tumultuous few years in which a series of corporate America’s best-known names admitted to wrongdoing of one sort or another—the roll-call includes Enron, WorldCom, Qwest, Adelphia, Rite Aid, Tyco and Xerox—the focus shifted to Wall Street’s banks and fund managers, giving industrial companies some breathing space. They are also relieved that the latest scandals—the billions missing from Italy’s biggest dairy company, Parmalat, and questionable accounting at Adecco, a Swiss-based company that is the world’s biggest temping agency—are unfolding thousands of miles away. . . . Right now, the pack following the demise of one-time corporate titans is enraptured by the trial of Dennis Kozlowksi, former chief executive, and Mark Swartz, former chief financial officer, of Tyco. . . . [S]hareholders were appalled by revelations of excess, including $6,000 spent on a shower curtain and more than $100,000 on a mirror at a posh company apartment where Mr. Kozlowski lived. Prosecutors have alleged that Mr. Kozlowski and Mr. Swartz stole $170 million from the company, illegally gained $430 million from selling stock, and used dubious accounting to hide their actions—allegations the men have denied. . . . So far, of the senior Enron executives, only [Andrew Fastow, former finance chief], has been indicted. The man who set up a series of offshore partnerships that disguised huge liabilities

had pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to inflate Enron’s profits . . . . His wife, also a former Enron employee, was last week offered a deal under which she would plead guilty to a charge of filing a false tax return. . . . “Our financial officer won’t be at February is scheduled work today—he just called in guilty.” to bring two trials, that of Scott Sullivan, former chief financial officer of WorldCom, and that of John Rigas, founder of Adelphia Communications, a cable television company. WorldCom is the holder of the record for the most deceptive accounts, to the tune of an estimated $11 billion over several years. Mr. Sullivan is charged with masterminding the fraud, though he denies this. . . . While the rash of scandals did subside somewhat in 2003, another of the best-known corporate personalities of the late 1990s fell from grace. Dick Grasso resigned as chairman and chief executive of the New York Stock Exchange after a furore erupted over his $140 million pay packet (later revealed to have been $188m in total). . . .

SOURCE: Tribune Media Services, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Excerpted from the The Economist magazine, the following account provides details of some of the scandals that erupted in the corporate world in the early 2000s.

SOURCE: “A Trying Year,” The Economist, January 13, 2004, http://www.economist.com.

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A derivative is a complex financial instrument whose value depends in some way on the price movements of some specified set of investments, such as a group of stocks, bonds, or commodities. For example, a derivative contract may entitle its owner to buy 100 shares of Company X’s stock at a price of $30 in four months, where $30 may be higher or lower than the market price of that stock at the specified date. A credit default swap (CDS) is a financial instrument that functions like an insurance policy that protects a lender. The buyer of a CDS pays the seller for insuring against a thirdparty’s default on a debt that is owed to the former. If the third party defaults on the debt, failing to make the required repayment, the seller of the CDS must pay a lump sum to the buyer of the CDS.

market price. This reduction in risk makes it far easier for corporations to issue new stocks. Second, the stock market determines the current price of the company’s stocks. That, in turn, determines whether it will be difficult or easy for a corporation to raise money by selling new stocks. Some people believe that a company’s stock price is closely tied to its operational efficiency, its effectiveness in meeting consumer demands, and its diligence in going after profitable innovation. According to this view, firms that use funds effectively will usually have comparatively high stock prices, and that will enable the firms to raise more money when they issue new stocks through their investment banks and sell them at the high prices determined by the stock market. In this way, the stock market tends to channel the economy’s funds to the firms that can make best use of the money. Other people voice skepticism about the claim that the price of a company’s stock is closely tied to efficiency. These observers believe that the demand for a stock is disproportionately influenced by short-term developments in the company’s profitability and that the market pays little attention to management decisions affecting the firm’s long-term earnings growth. These critics sometimes suggest that the stock market is similar to a gambling casino in which hunch, rumor, and superstition have a critical influence on prices. (We will learn more about this view later in the chapter.) Whether or not stock prices are an accurate measure of a company’s efficiency, if a company’s stock price is very low in comparison with the value of its plant, equipment, and other assets, or when a company’s earnings seem low compared to its potential level, that company becomes a tempting target for a takeover. Perhaps the firm’s current management is believed not to be very competent, and those who seek to take control of the company believe that they can do better. Alternatively, if the demand for a company’s stocks is believed to be inordinately influenced by short-term developments, such as temporarily low profits, others may believe that it is a bargain in terms of the low current price of

How to Lose Billions: Betting on Derivatives Derivatives are complex financial instruments that “derive” their value from the price movements of an underlying investment, such as a group of stocks, bonds, or commodities. For example, a derivative may entitle its owner to buy 100 shares of Company X’s stock at a price of $30 four months in the future. Below, Professor William Silber of New York University’s Stern School of Business, a widely recognized expert in securities markets, explains the role derivatives played in the most recent financial crisis:

defaulting on their mortgages, returns on these investments, which came from homeowners’ mortgage payments, halted, and the value of these financial products declined rapidly. But when banks tried to redeem their CDS contracts, the insurers, who had not expected these new financial products to fail en masse, did not have enough cash on hand to cover the contracts. Below, Professor Silber describes the dramatic events that followed:

“Businesses buy [derivatives] contracts in an effort to hedge or insure against sudden changes in interest rates or currency values. But they also can be used to speculate in the markets, and sometimes wind up creating bigger problems. Derivatives exacerbated the financial crisis that began in August 2007 by adding to the potential liabilities of major financial institutions who had sold certain types of derivative contracts. Credit Default Swaps (CDSs) are derivatives that, under normal circumstances, allow investors to protect themselves in the event a bond they own goes into default. The seller of the CDS promises that the investor will receive the face value of the bond if the company defaults. The seller receives an up-front fee in exchange.”

“American International Group (AIG) was a major seller of CDSs to a wide variety of financial institutions. As a result of deteriorating credit conditions in September 2009, there was a high probability that AIG would not be able to make all of the payments that were due. It had miscalculated the default risks. Had AIG gone bankrupt, hundreds of other financial institutions that thought they had protection would have been left without any. The prospect of a cascade of bankruptcies forced the U.S. government to lend more than $100 billion to AIG to prevent a further collapse. The lesson is that derivatives can be beneficial if they are used properly but can have unintended consequences unless they are monitored closely.”

In the years leading up to the financial crisis of 2007–2008, U.S. investment banks bought CDSs as insurance to protect against potential losses related to the exotic financial products that they were buying and selling. When many American homeowners began

SOURCES: Professor William Silber, Director, Glucksman Institute for Research in Securities Markets, Stern School of Business, New York University; and Adam Davidson, “How AIG Fell Apart,” September 18, 2008, accessed online at http:// www.thebigmoney.com.

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the stock and its more promising future earnings prospects. A takeover occurs when a group of outside financiers buys a sufficient amount of company stock to gain control of the firm. Often, the new controlling group will simply fire the current management and substitute a new chairman, president, and other top officers.

A takeover is the acquisition by an outside group (the raiders) of a controlling proportion of a company’s stock. When the old management opposes the takeover attempt, it is called a hostile takeover attempt.

Chapter 9

SPECULATION Securities dealings are sometimes viewed with suspicion because they are thought to be an instrument of speculation. When something goes wrong in the stock market—when, say, prices suddenly fall— o bservers often blame speculators. Editorial writers, for example, often use the word speculators as a term of strong disapproval, implying that those who engage in the activity are parasites who produce no benefits for society and often cause considerable harm. (See “How to Lose Billions: Betting on Derivatives,” on the previous page, for a description of a particularly risky speculative instrument, the derivative.) Economists disagree vehemently with this judgment. They argue that speculators perform two vital economic functions:

Individuals who engage in speculation deliberately invest in risky assets, hoping to obtain profits from future changes in the prices of these assets.

• Speculators sell protection from risk to other people, much as a fire insurance policy offers protection from risk to a homeowner. • Speculators help to smooth out price fluctuations by purchasing items when they are abundant (and cheap) and holding them and reselling them when they are scarce (and expensive). In that way, speculators play a vital economic role in helping to alleviate and even prevent shortages. Some examples from outside the securities markets will help clarify the role of speculators. Imagine that a Broadway ticket broker attends a preview of a new musical comedy and suspects it will be a hit. He decides to speculate by buying a large block of tickets for future performances. In that way, he takes over part of the producer’s risk, while the play’s producer reduces her inventory of risky tickets and receives some hard cash. If the show opens and is a flop, the broker will be stuck with the tickets. If the show is a hit, he can sell them at a premium, if the law allows (and he will be denounced as a speculator or a “scalper”). Similarly, speculators enable farmers (or producers of metals and other commodities whose future price is uncertain) to decrease their risk. Let’s say Jasmine and Jim have planted a large crop of wheat but fear its price may fall before harvest time. They can protect themselves by signing a contract with a speculator for future delivery of the crop at an agreed-upon price. If the price then falls, the speculator—not Jasmine and Jim—will suffer the loss. Of course, if the price rises, the speculator will reap the rewards—but that is the nature of risk bearing. The speculator who has agreed to buy the crop at a preset price, regardless of market conditions at the time of the sale, has, in effect, sold an insurance policy to Jasmine and Jim. Surely this is a useful function. The speculators’ second role is perhaps even more important. In effect, they accumulate and store goods in periods of abundance and make goods available in periods of scarcity. Suppose that a speculator has reason to suspect that next year’s crop of a storable commodity will not be nearly as abundant as this year’s. She will buy some of the crop now, when it is cheap, for resale when it becomes scarce and expensive. In the process, she will smooth out the swing in prices by adding her purchases to the total market demand in the low-price period (which tends to bring the price up at that time) and bringing in her supplies during the high-price period (which tends to push this later-period price down).13 Thus, the successful speculator will help to relieve matters during periods of extreme shortage. Speculators have sometimes even helped to relieve famine by releasing supplies they had deliberately hoarded for such an occasion. Of course, speculators are cursed for their high prices when this happens. But those who curse them do not understand that prices would 13

For a diagrammatic analysis of this role of speculation, see Discussion Question 3 at the end of this chapter.

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have been even higher if the speculators’ foresight and avid pursuit of profit had not provided for the emergency. On the securities market, famine and severe shortages are not an issue, but the fact remains that successful speculators tend to reduce price fluctuations by increasing demand for stocks when prices are low and contributing to supply when prices are high. Far from aggravating instability and fluctuations, to earn a profit speculators iron out fluctuations by buying when prices are low and selling when prices are high.

PUZZLE 2 RESOLVED:

In one of the puzzles at the beginning of this chapter, we cited evidence indicating that the best professional securities analysts have a forecasting record so miserable that investors may do as well predicting earnings by hunch, superstition, or any purely random process as they would by following professional advice. (See “Giving Up on Stock Gimmicks” on the next page to learn about some crazy ways of “predicting” the stock market’s performance.) Does this mean that analysts are incompetent people who do not know what they are doing? Not at all. Rather, there is fairly strong evidence that they have undertaken a task that is basically impossible. How can this be so? The answer is that to make a good forecast of any variable—be it GDP, population, fuel usage, or stock market prices—there must be something in the past whose behavior is closely related to the future behavior of the variable whose path we wish to predict. If a 10 percent rise in this year’s consumption always produces a 5 percent rise in next year’s GDP, this fact can help us predict future GDP on the basis of current observations. But if we want to forecast the future of a variable whose behavior is completely unrelated to the behavior of any current or past variable, there is no objective evidence that can help us make that forecast. Throwing darts or gazing into a crystal ball are no less effective than analysts’ calculations. A mass of statistical evidence indicates that the behavior of stock prices is largely unpredictable. In other words, the behavior of stock prices is essentially random; the paths they follow approximate what statisticians call random walks. A random walk is like the path followed by a sleepwalker. All we know about his position after his next step is that it will be given by his current position plus whatever random direction his next haphazard step will take. The relevant feature of randomness, for our purposes, is that it is by nature unpredictable, which is just what the word random means. If the evidence that stock prices approximate a random walk stands up to research in the future as it has so far, it is easy enough to understand why stock market predictions are so poor. Analysts are trying to forecast behavior that is basically random; in effect, they are trying to predict the unpredictable. SOURCE: © 1990 Cartoonists & Writers Syndicate/cartoonweb.com

The time path of a variable such as the price of a stock is said to constitute a random walk if its magnitude in one period (say, May 2, 2005) is equal to its value in the preceding period (May 1, 2005) plus a completely random number. That is: Price on May 2, 2005 5 Price on May 1, 2005 1 Random number, where the random number (positive or negative) can be obtained by a roll of dice or some such procedure.

UNPREDICTABLE STOCK PRICES AS “RANDOM WALKS”

“Just a normal day at the nation’s most important financial institution . . .”

Two questions remain. First, does the evidence that stock prices follow a random walk mean that investment in stocks is a pure gamble and never worthwhile? Second, how does one explain the random behavior of stock prices? To answer the first question, it is wrong to conclude that investment in stocks is generally not worthwhile. The statistical evidence is that, over the long run, stock prices as a whole have followed a fairly marked upward trend, perhaps reflecting the long-term growth of the economy. Thus, the random walk does not proceed in just any direction—rather, it represents a set of erratic movements around a basic upward trend in stock prices. Moreover, it is not in the overall level of stock prices that the most pertinent random walk occurs, but in the performance of one company’s stock as compared with another firm’s stock. For this reason, professional advice may be able to predict that investment in the stock market is likely to be a good thing over the long haul. But, if

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Giving Up on Stock Gimmicks While Super Bowl indicator fans struggled to formulate the “Elway exception,” the St. Louis Rams recaptured the Super Bowl in 2000 forthe NFL originals. Contrarily, the stock market then dropped. . . . A seasonal indicator with a stronger rationale, the January barometer long espoused by investment advisor Yale Hirsch, gave a better performance in 2000. In line with Hirsch’s doctrine that “as January goes, so goes the year,” it foreshadowed a down year for the market when the stock-price averages posted minus signs for the first month. By Hirsch’s reckoning, this rule has seen only three glaring exceptions since 1950. Most years, I readily confess, I find myself checking in January to see how it’s shaping up. But when the time comes to figure out how to put it into use, I’m at a loss. Trading on it seems impractical. Any long-term investor who sits out each January to await a signal misses a lot of gains: Measuring by the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, 3.3 percent in 1996, 6.1 percent in 1997, 1 percent in 1998 and 4.1 percent in 1999. . . . Maybe you’ve got some favorite indicators of your own. If so, you’re welcome to them. From now on, I never touch the stuff.”

SOURCE: © GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

“For a New Year’s resolution . . ., I’m giving up stock market forecasting gimmicks. The Super Bowl indicator. The January barometer. Others so numerous I can’t think of them all right now. It won’t be easy to do this cold turkey. The indicators are often ingenious, occasionally quite persuasive, and nearly always fun. They appeal to my yearning for a simple answer to a complicated problem. The first indicator I bid goodbye to, the Super Bowl stock market predictor, is the easiest to forswear. It has suddenly and completely stopped functioning, breaking down like a rusty old car. That’s too bad, because it added some zest to the National Football League championship extravaganza, which more than once has needed it. The idea is this: If a team from the original National Football League before its 1970 merger with the American Football League won the Super Bowl, a good year for the stock market was in store. Conversely, if a team with AFL origins triumphed, tough times lay ahead. An awareness of this pattern would have been especially helpful in the bear-market years 1969, 1970, 1973, 1974, and 1981, all of which began with wins by a team from the wrong side of the tracks. So what if everybody knew there was no possible causal link between football and the stock market? As the years rolled by, though, the novelty of the Super Bowl indicator wore off, especially as analysts picked it apart looking for corollaries. Was the margin of victory important? What about which team scored first? Then along came John Elway to knock the whole thing down with a barrage of his famous bullet passes. The Denver Broncos quarterback led his team, a product of the AFL, to victories in ’98 and ’99, and yet the stock market boomed anyway.

SOURCE: Chet Currier, “Investing: Giving Up on Stock Gimmicks,” from Newsday, January 7, 2001, p. F13. Reprinted by permission of Tribune Media Services.

the random walk evidence is valid, there is no way professionals can tell us which of the available stocks is most likely to increase in price—that is, which combination of stocks is best for the investor to buy. The only appropriate answer to the second question of how to account for the random behavior of stock prices is that no one is sure of the explanation. There are two widely offered hypotheses—each virtually the opposite of the other. The first asserts that stock prices are random because clever professional speculators are able to foresee almost perfectly every influence that is not random. For example, suppose that a change occurs that makes the probable earnings of some company higher than had previously been expected. Then, according to this view, the professionals will instantly become aware of this change and immediately buy enough shares to raise the price of the stock accordingly. Then the only thing for that stock price to do between this year and next is wander randomly, because the professionals cannot predict random movements, and hence they cannot force current stock prices to anticipate them. The second explanation of the random behavior of stock prices is at the opposite extreme from the view that all nonrandom movements are wiped out by super-smart professionals. This is the view that people who buy and sell stocks have learned that they cannot predict future stock prices. As a result, they react to any signal, however irrational and irrelevant it appears. If the president catches cold, stock prices fall. If an astronaut’s venture is successful, prices go up. According to this view, investors are, in the last analysis, trying to predict not the prospects of the economy or of the company whose shares they buy, but the supply and demand behavior of other investors, which

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will ultimately determine the course of stock prices. Because all investors are equally in the dark, their groping around can only result in the randomness that we observe. The classic statement of this view of stock market behavior was provided in 1936 by the English economist John Maynard Keynes, a successful professional speculator himself: Professional investment may be likened to those newspaper competitions in which the competitors have to pick out the six prettiest faces from a hundred photographs, the prize being awarded to the competitor whose choice most nearly corresponds to the average preferences of the competitors as a whole; so that each competitor has to pick not those faces which he himself finds prettiest, but those which he thinks likeliest to catch the fancy of the other competitors, all of whom are looking at the problem from the same point of view. It is not a case of choosing those which, to the best of one’s judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be. And there are some, I believe, who practice the fourth, fifth and higher degrees.14

14 John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (New York: Harcourt Brace; 1936), p. 156.

PUZZLE 1 REDUX:

THE BOOM AND BUST OF THE U.S. STOCK MARKET

This last quotation leads to some insights into the remarkable behavior of the U.S. stock market during the late 1990s and early 2000s—a phenomenon we mentioned at the start of this chapter. (Refer back to Figure 1.) First, many people who buy stocks—both professionals and amateurs—do so for speculative purposes. They may not care (or even know!) what the company does; they care only that its stock price goes up. Second, in a speculative world, where people buy stocks in order to sell them later, a share of stock is basically worth what someone else will pay for it. So even if Smart Susan is convinced that Dotcon.com has poor business prospects, it may still be rational for her to buy the stock at $50 per share if she is convinced that she will be able to sell it to Foolish Frank next year for $100 per share. (This idea has been called the “greater fool” theory of investing: It makes sense to buy a stock at a foolishly high price if you can sell it at an even higher price—to an even greater fool!) Third, once something attains the status of a fad, waves of buying can drive prices up to ridiculous levels, as has happened many times in history. Fourth, America undoubtedly fell in love both with information technology (especially the Internet) and the stock market (especially Internet-related stocks) in the late 1990s. All this set the stage for what is commonly called a financial “bubble.” The metaphor is meant to conjure up images of things like balloons and soap bubbles that blow up and up and up . . . until they burst. Indeed, legions of economists were warning about a stock market bubble in 1998, in 1999, and into 2000. The problem is simply stated: No one ever knows when a bubble will burst. And for stock market speculators, timing is everything. Look back at Figure 1 again. Those who claimed in mid-1999 that technology stocks were overvalued looked pretty silly when stock prices doubled in less than one year. (Of course, they subsequently looked pretty smart when prices collapsed!) Technology enthusiasts ignored them as the stock market partied on. The only thing that is truly predictable about a bubble is that it will burst—eventually. But no one ever knows when. As was also the case more recently when the “housing bubble” burst, triggering the even larger economic crisis of 2007–2008, no one could say definitively that now was the time to sell technology stocks. As the saying goes, the rest is history.

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Investing in Business: Stocks and Bonds

Chapter 9

| SUMMARY | 1. Most U.S. manufactured goods are produced by corporations.

raise money because they are able to sell each stock issue at favorable prices.

2. Investors in corporations have greater risk protection than those who put their money into other types of firms because the corporate form gives them limited liability—they cannot be asked to pay more of the company’s debts than they have invested in the firm.

8. Bonds are relatively risky for the firms that issue them, but they are fairly safe for their buyers, because they are a commitment by those firms to pay fixed annual amounts to the bondholders whether or not the companies make money that year. Stocks, which do not promise any fixed payment, are relatively safe for the companies but risky for their owners.

3. Higher taxation of corporate earnings tends to limit the things in which corporations can invest and may lead to inefficiency in resource allocation.

9. A portfolio is a collection of stocks, bonds, and other assets of a single owner. The greater the number and variety of securities and other assets a portfolio contains, the less risky it generally is.

4. A common stock is a share in a company’s ownership. A bond is an IOU for money lent to a company by the bondholder. Many observers argue that a stock purchase really amounts to a loan to the company—a loan that is riskier than a bond purchase.

10. A takeover of a corporation occurs when an outside group buys enough stock to get control of the firm’s decisions. Takeovers are a useful way to get rid of incompetent management or to force management to be more efficient. However, the process is costly and leads to wasteful defensive and offensive activities.

5. If interest rates rise, bond prices will fall. In other words, if some bond amounts to a contract to pay 8 percent and the market interest rate goes up to 10 percent, people will no longer be willing to pay the old price for that bond. 6. Corporations finance their activities mostly by plowback (that is, by retaining part of their earnings and reinvesting the funds in the company). They also obtain funds by selling stocks and bonds and by taking out more traditional loans.

11. Speculation affects stock market prices, but (contrary to widespread belief) it actually tends to reduce the frequency and size of price fluctuations. Speculators are also useful to the economy because they undertake risks that others wish to avoid, thereby, in effect, providing others with insurance against risk.

7. If stock prices correctly reflect the future prospects of different companies, it is easier for promising firms to

12. Statistical evidence indicates that individual stock prices behave randomly (in other words, unpredictably).

| KEY TERMS | bond

180

index fund

common stock corporation

180

179

credit default swap derivative

inflation

188

equities 184

interest rate 188

184

portfolio diversification

181 181

limited liability mutual fund

184

random walk 190 securities

180

speculation

184

181 189

stock price index

plowback (retained earnings) 182

184

takeover 188, 189

| TEST YOURSELF | 1. Suppose that interest rates are 6 percent in the economy and a safe bond promises to pay $3 per year in interest forever. What do you think the price of the bond will be? Why? 2. Suppose that in the economy described in Test Yourself 1, interest rates suddenly fall to 3 percent. What will happen to the price of the bond that pays $3 per year? 3. For whom are stocks riskier than bonds? For whom are bonds riskier than stocks?

4. If the price of a company’s stock constitutes a random walk, next year its price will equal today’s price plus what? 5. Company A sells heaters and Company B sells air conditioners. Which is the safer investment, Company A stock, Company B stock, or a portfolio containing half of each? 6. If you make a lucky prediction about the prices of the stocks of the two companies in Question 5, will you earn more or less if you invest in that company rather than the portfolio?

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| DISCUSSION QUESTIONS | 1. If you hold shares in a corporation and management decides to plow back the company’s earnings some year instead of paying dividends, what are the advantages and disadvantages to you? 2. If you want to buy a stock, when might it pay you to use a market order? When will it pay to use a limit order? 3. Show in diagrams that if a speculator were to buy when price is high and sell when price is low, he would increase price fluctuations. Why would it be in his best interest not to do so? (Hint: Draw two supply-demand diagrams, one for the high-price period and one for the low-price period. How would the speculator’s activities affect these diagrams?) 4. If stock prices really do take a random walk, can you nevertheless think of good reasons for getting professional advice before investing?

5. Hostile takeovers often end up in court when management attempts to block such a maneuver and raiders accuse management of selfishly sacrificing the stockholders’ interests. The courts often look askance at “coercive” offers by raiders—an offer to buy, say, 20 percent of the company’s stock by a certain date from the first stockholders who offer to sell. By contrast, they take a more favorable attitude toward “noncoercive” offers to buy any and all stock supplied at announced prices. Do you think the courts are right to reject “coercive offers” and prevent management from blocking “noncoercive” offers? Why? 6. In program trading, computers decide when to buy or sell stocks on behalf of large, institutional investors. The computers then carry out those transactions with electronic speed. Critics claim that this practice is a major reason why stock prices rose and fell sharply in the 1980s. Is this idea plausible? Why or why not?

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Part

Markets and the Price System

S

o far, we have talked only about firms in general without worrying about the different sorts of markets in which they operate. To understand the different types of competition a firm can face, it is necessary, first, to explain clearly what we mean by the word market. Economists do not reserve this term for only an organized exchange, such as the London stock exchange, operating in a specific location. In its more general and abstract usage, market refers to a set of sellers and buyers whose activities affect the price at which a particular commodity is sold. For example, two separate sales of General Motors stock in different parts of the country can be considered to take place in the same market, whereas sales of bread in one stall of a market square and sales of compact discs in the next stall may, in our sense, occur in totally different markets. Economists distinguish among different kinds of competition in such markets according to how many firms they include, whether the products of the different firms are identical or different, and how easy it is for new firms to enter the markets. Perfect competition is at one extreme (many small firms selling an identical product, with easy entry into the market), and pure monopoly (a single firm dominating the market) is at the other extreme. In between are hybrid forms—called monopolistic competition (many small firms, each selling slightly different products) and oligopoly (a few large rival firms)—that share some of the characteristics of both perfect competition and monopoly. Perfect competition is far from the typical market form in the U.S. economy. Indeed, it is quite rare. Pure monopoly—literally one firm—is also infrequently encountered. Most of the products you buy are no doubt supplied by oligopolies or monopolistic competitors— terms that we will define precisely in Chapter 12.

C H A P T E R S 10 | The Firm and the

Industry under Perfect Competition

11 | Monopoly

12 | Between Competition and Monopoly

13 | Limiting Market Power:

Regulation and Antitrust

195

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The Firm and the Industry under Perfect Competition Competition . . . brings about the only . . . arrangement of social production which is possible. . . . [Otherwise] what guarantee [do] we have that the necessary quantity and not more of each product will be produced, that we shall not go hungry in regard to corn and meat while we are choked in beet sugar and drowned in potato spirit, that we shall not lack trousers to cover our nakedness while buttons flood us in millions? F R I E D R I C H EN GEL S ( THE FRI END AND COAU THOR OF KARL M A RX)

I

ndustries differ dramatically in the number and typical sizes of their firms. Some, such as commercial fishing, encompass a great many small firms. Others, like automobile manufacturing, are composed of a few industrial giants. This chapter deals with a special type of market structure—called perfect competition—in which firms are numerous and small. As already noted, this market structure is rarely even approximated in reality. Yet, for reasons that will be pointed out, until a few decades ago most economic theory regarding firms and markets focused on the case of perfect competition. We begin this chapter by comparing alternative market forms and defining perfect competition precisely. But first, as usual, we set out our puzzle.

C O N T E N T S PUZZLE: POLLUTION REDUCTION INCENTIVES

THAT ACTUALLY INCREASE POLLUTION

PERFECT COMPETITION DEFINED THE PERFECTLY COMPETITIVE FIRM The Firm’s Demand Curve under Perfect Competition Short-Run Equilibrium for the Perfectly Competitive Firm Short-Run Profit: Graphic Representation

The Case of Short-Term Losses Shutdown and Break-Even Analysis The Perfectly Competitive Firm’s Short-Run Supply Curve

THE PERFECTLY COMPETITIVE INDUSTRY The Perfectly Competitive Industry’s Short-Run Supply Curve Industry Equilibrium in the Short Run Industry and Firm Equilibrium in the Long Run

Zero Economic Profit: The Opportunity Cost of Capital The Long-Run Industry Supply Curve

PERFECT COMPETITION AND ECONOMIC EFFICIENCY PUZZLE RESOLVED: WHICH MORE

EFFECTIVELY CUTS POLLUTION—THE CARROT OR THE STICK?

197

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PUZZLE:

POLLUTION REDUCTION INCENTIVES THAT ACTUALLY INCREASE POLLUTION

Many economists and other citizens concerned about the environment believe that society can obtain cleaner air and water cheaply and effectively by requiring polluters to pay for the damages they cause. (See Chapter 17 for more details.) Yet people often view pollution charges as just another tax, and that word can translate into political poison. Some politicians—reasoning that you can move a donkey along just as effectively by offering it a carrot as by poking it with a stick—have proposed paying firms to cut down on their polluting emissions. At least some theoretical and statistical evidence indicates that such a system of bribes (or, to use a more palatable word, subsidies) does work, at least up to a point. Individual polluting firms will, indeed, respond to government payments for decreased emissions by reducing their pollution. But, over the long haul, it turns out that society may well end up with more pollution than before! Subsidy payments to the firms can actually exacerbate pollution problems. How is it possible that subsidies induce each firm to pollute less but in the long run lead to a rise in total pollution? The analysis in this chapter will supplement your own common sense sufficiently to supply the answer.

PERFECT COMPETITION DEFINED Perfect competition occurs in an industry when that industry is made up of many small firms producing homogeneous products, when there is no impediment to the entry or exit of firms, and when full information is available.

You can appreciate just how special perfect competition is by considering this comprehensive definition. A market is said to operate under perfect competition when the following four conditions are satisfied: 1. Numerous small firms and customers. Competitive markets contain so many buyers and sellers that each one constitutes a negligible portion of the whole—so small, in fact, that each player’s decisions have no effect on price. This requirement rules out trade associations or other collusive arrangements in which firms work together to influence price. 2. Homogeneity of product. The product offered by any seller is identical to that supplied by any other seller. (For example, No. 1 red winter wheat is a homogeneous product; different brands of toothpaste are not.) Because products are homogeneous, consumers do not care from which firm they buy, so competition is more powerful. 3. Freedom of entry and exit. New firms desiring to enter the market face no impediments that previous entrants can avoid, so new firms can easily come in and compete with older firms. Similarly, if production and sale of the good proves unprofitable, no barriers prevent firms from leaving the market. 4. Perfect information. Each firm and each customer is well informed about available products and prices. They know whether one supplier is selling at a lower price than another.

These exacting requirements are rarely, if ever, found in practice. One example that comes close to the perfectly competitive standard is a market for common stocks. On any given day, literally millions of buyers and sellers trade Boeing stock. All of the shares are exactly alike, anyone who wishes to sell their Boeing stock can enter the market easily, and most relevant company and industry information is readily available (and virtually free of charge) in the daily newspapers or on the Internet. Many farming and fishing industries also approximate perfect competition, but it is difficult to find many other examples. Our interest in the perfectly competitive model surely does not lie in its ability to describe reality. Why, then, do we spend time studying perfect competition? The answer takes us back to the central theme of this book. Under perfect competition the market mechanism in

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many ways performs best. If we want to learn what markets do well, we can put the market’s best foot forward by beginning with perfect competition. As Adam Smith suggested some two centuries ago, perfectly competitive firms use society’s scarce resources with maximum efficiency. Also, as Friedrich Engels suggested in the opening quotation of this chapter, only perfect competition can ensure that the economy turns out just those varieties and relative quantities of goods that match consumer preferences. By studying perfect competition, we can learn some of the things an ideally functioning market system can accomplish. This is the topic of this chapter and Chapter 14. In Chapters 11 and 12, we will consider other market forms and see how they deviate from the perfectly competitive ideal. Later chapters (especially Chapter 15 and all of Parts 4 and 5) will examine many important tasks that the market does not perform well, even under perfect competition. All these chapters combined should provide a balanced assessment of the virtues and vices of the market mechanism.

THE PERFECTLY COMPETITIVE FIRM To discover what happens in a perfectly competitive market, we must deal separately with the behavior of individual firms and the behavior of the industry that is constituted by those firms. One basic difference between the firm and the industry under competition relates to pricing: Under perfect competition, the firm has no choice but to accept the price that has been determined in the market. It is therefore called a “price taker” (rather than a “price maker”).

The idea that no firm in a perfectly competitive market can exert any control over product price follows from our stringent definition of perfect competition. The presence of a vast number of competitors, each offering identical products, forces each firm to meet but not exceed the price charged by the others, because at any higher price all of the firm’s customers would leave it and move their purchases to its rivals. With two important exceptions, analysis of the behavior of the firm under perfect competition is exactly as we described in Chapters 7 and 8. The two exceptions relate to the special shape of the perfectly competitive firm’s demand curve and the freedom of entry and exit, along with their effects on the firm’s profits. We will consider each of these special features of perfect competition in turn, beginning with the demand curve.

Under perfect competition, the firm is a price taker. It has no choice but to accept the price that has been determined in the market.

The Firm’s Demand Curve under Perfect Competition In Chapter 8, we always assumed that the firm faced a downward-sloping demand curve; that is, if a firm wished to sell more (without increasing its advertising or changing its product specifications), it had to reduce its product price. The perfectly competitive firm is an exception to this general principle. A perfectly competitive firm faces a horizontal demand curve. This means that it can sell as much as it wants at the prevailing market price. It can double or triple its sales without reducing the price of its product.

How is this possible? The answer is that the perfectly competitive firm is so insignificant relative to the market as a whole that it has absolutely no influence over price. The farmer who sells his corn through a commodities exchange in Chicago must accept the current quotation that his broker reports to him. Because there are thousands of farmers, the Chicago price per bushel will not budge because farmer Jasmine decides she doesn’t like the price and stores a truckload of corn rather than taking it to the grain elevator. Thus, the demand curve for Jasmine’s corn is as shown in Figure 1(a). As we can see, the price she is paid in Chicago will be $3 per bushel whether she sells one truckload (point A) or two (point B) or three (point C). This is because that $3 price is determined

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Price per Bushel in Chicago

D

A

B

C

Industry supply curve E

$3

$3

S

Industry demand curve

Firm’s demand curve S D 0

1

2

3

4

0

100 200 300 400

Truckloads of Corn Sold by Farmer Jasmine per Year

Total Sales in Chicago in Thousands of Truckloads per Year

(a)

(b)

F I GURE 1 Demand Curve for a Firm under Perfect Competition

Short-Run Equilibrium for the Perfectly Competitive Firm

F I GURE 2 Short-Run Equilibrium of the Perfectly Competitive Firm

Revenue and Cost per Bushel

by the intersection of the industry’s supply and demand curves shown in the right-hand portion of the graph, Figure 1(b). Notice that, in the case of perfect competition, the downwardsloping industry demand curve in Figure 1(b) leads to the horizontal demand curve for the individual firm in Figure 1(a). Also notice that the height of the firm’s horizontal demand curve will be the height of the intersection point, E, of the industry supply and demand curves. So the firm’s demand curve will generally not resemble the demand curve for the industry.

We already have sufficient background to study the decisions of a firm operating in a perfectly competitive market. Recall from Chapter 8 that profit maximization requires the firm to pick an output level that makes its marginal cost equal to its marginal revenue: MC 5 MR. The only feature that distinguishes the profit-maximizing equilibrium for the perfectly competitive firm from that of any other type of firm is its horizontal demand curve. We know from Chapter 8 that the firm’s demand curve is also its average revenue curve if it sells its product at the same price to each and every customer, because the average revenue a firm gets from selling a commodity is equal to the price of the commodity. That is, if it sells 100 shirts at a price of $18 each, then obviously, the average revenue it obtains from the sale of each shirt will be the average of $18, 18, 18, etc. 5 $18. So, because the demand curve tells us the price at which the supplier can sell a given quantity, this means it also tells us the average revenue it gets per unit sold when it sells that given quantity. Thus the firm’s demand curve and its average revenue curve are identical, by definition. The same curve does two jobs, but it also does a third job. Because this demand curve is horizontal, the competitive firm’s marginal revenue curve is a horizontal straight line that also coincides with its demand curve; hence, MR 5 Price (P). It is easy to see why this is so. If the price does not depend on how much the firm sells (which is exactly what a horizontal demand curve means), then each additional unit sold brings in an amount of additional revenue (the marginal revenue) exactly equal to the MC AC market price. So marginal revenue always equals price under perfect competition because the firm is a price taker.1 B

$3.00

D = MR = AR

2.25

A

1.50 0

50,000 Bushels of Corn per Year

Under perfect competition the firm’s demand curve, average revenue curve, and marginal revenue curve are all the same.

As in Chapter 8, once we know the shape and position of a firm’s marginal revenue curve, we can use this information and the marginal cost curve to determine its optimal output and profit, as shown in Figure 2. As usual, the profit-maximizing output is that at which MC 5 MR (point

There is another way to prove this. We saw in the appendix to Chapter 8 that if the average revenue curve is horizontal and its height is equal to price, we cannot have either MR , AR or MR . AR, because a marginal revenue lower than average revenue must put the average down, and MR . AR must pull the average up. So with the demand curve horizontal we must have P 5 MR 5 MR. 1

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B). This occurs at the point where the MC curve cuts the demand curve (under perfect competition, D 5 MR 5 AR), because, as we have just seen, the firm’s output is too small to affect market price. This particular competitive firm produces 50,000 bushels of corn per year—the output level at which MC and MR both equal the market price, $3. Thus: Because it is a price taker, the equilibrium of a profitmaximizing firm in a perfectly competitive market must occur at an output level at which marginal cost equals price 5 AR 5 MR. This is because a horizontal demand curve makes price and MR equal and, therefore, both must equal marginal cost according to the profit-maximizing principle. In symbols: MC 5 MR 5 P

TABLE 1 Revenues, Costs, and Profits of a Perfectly Competitive Firm

(1)

(2)

(3)

Total Total Marginal Quantity Revenue Revenue 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70

$

0 30 60 90 120 150 180 210

$30 30 30 30 30 30 30

(4)

(5)

(6)

Total Cost

Marginal Cost

Total Profit

$ 32 $ 22 $ 24 56 4 11.5 67.5 22.5 18.5 86 34 26.5 112.5 37.5 56.5 169 11 93 262 252

NOTE: Quantity is in thousands of bushels; dollars are in thousands. This idea is illustrated in Table 1, which gives the firm’s total and marginal revenue, total and marginal cost, and total profit for different output quantities. We see from column (6) that total profit is maximized at an output of about 50,000 bushels where total profit is $37,500. An increase in output from 40,000 to 50,000 bushels incurs a marginal cost ($26,500) that most nearly equals the corresponding marginal revenue ($30,000), confirming that 50,000 bushels is the profit-maximizing output.2

Short-Run Profit: Graphic Representation Our analysis so far tells us how a firm can pick the output that maximizes its profit. It may even be able to earn a substantial profit, but sometimes, even if it succeeds in maximizing profit, the firm may conceivably find itself in trouble because market conditions may make the highest possible profit a negative number. If the demand for its product is weak or its costs are high, even the firm’s most profitable option may lead to a loss. In the short run, the demand curve can either be high or low relative to costs. To determine whether the firm is making a profit or incurring a loss, we must compare total revenue (TR 5 P 3 Q) with total cost (TC 5 AC 3 Q). Because the output (Q) is common to both of these amounts, this equation tells us that the process is equivalent to comparing price (P) with average cost (AC). If P . AC, the firm will earn a profit, and if P , AC, it will suffer a loss. We can, therefore, show the firm’s profit in Figure 2, which includes the firm’s average cost curve. By definition, profit per unit of output is revenue per unit (P) minus cost per unit (AC). We see in Figure 2 that average cost at 50,000 bushels per year is only $2.25 per bushel (point A), whereas average revenue (AR) is $3 per bushel (point B). The firm makes a profit of AR 2 AC 5 $0.75 per bushel, which appears in the graph as the vertical distance between points A and B. Notice that, in addition to showing the profit per unit, Figure 2 can be used to show the firm’s total profit. Total profit is the profit per unit ($0.75 in this example) times the number of units (50,000 per year). Therefore, total profit is represented by the area of the shaded rectangle whose height is the profit per unit ($0.75) and whose width is the number of units sold (50,000).3 In this case, profits are $37,500 per year. In general, total profit at any output is the area of the rectangle whose base equals the level of output and whose height equals AR 2 AC.

2 Marginal cost is not precisely equal to marginal revenue, because to calculate marginal costs and marginal revenues with perfect accuracy, we would have to increase output one bushel at a time instead of proceeding in leaps of 10,000 bushels. Of course, that would require too much space! In any event, our failure to make a more careful calculation in terms of individual bushels explains why we are unable to find the output at which MR and MC are exactly equal. 3

Recall that the formula for the area of a rectangle is Area 5 Height 3 Width.

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MC

The MC = P condition gives us the output that maximizes the perfectly competitive firm’s profit. It does not, however, tell us whether the firm is making a profit or incurring a loss. To make this determination, we must compare price (average revenue) with average cost.

AC

A

The Case of Short-Term Losses

$2.25 1.50

0

F I GURE 3 Short-Run Equilibrium of the Perfectly Competitive Firm with a Lower Price

The market is obviously treating the farmer in Figure 2 rather nicely. But what if the corn market were not so generous in its rewards? What if, for example, the market price 30,000 were only $1.50 per bushel instead of $3? Figure 3 shows the Bushels of Corn per Year equilibrium of the firm under these circumstances. The cost curves are the same in this diagram as they were in Figure 2, but the demand curve has shifted down to correspond to the market price of $1.50 per bushel. The firm still maximizes profits by producing the level of output at which marginal cost (MC) is equal to price (P) 2 (MC 5 P 5 MR)—point B in the diagram. But this time “maximizing profits” really means minimizing losses, as shown by the shaded rectangle. At the optimal level of output (30,000 bushels per year), average cost is $2.25 per bushel (point A), which exceeds the $1.50 per bushel price (point B). The firm therefore incurs a loss of $0.75 per bushel times 30,000 bushels, or $22,500 per year. This loss, which is represented by the area of the gold rectangle in Figure 3, is the best the firm can do. If it selected any other output level, its loss would be even greater. B

D = MR = P

Shutdown and Break-Even Analysis

A variable cost is a cost whose total amount changes when the quantity of output of the supplier changes.

Of course, any firm will accept only a limited amount of loss before it stops production. If losses get too big, the firm can simply go out of business. But sometimes it will benefit the firm to continue to operate for a while because of costs that it will still have to pay even if its production ceases. To understand the logic of the choice between shutting down and remaining in operation, at least temporarily to help cover losses, we must return to the distinction between costs that are variable in the short run and those that are not. Recall from Chapter 7 that costs are not variable if the firm cannot escape them in the short run, either because of a contract (say, with a landlord or a union) or because it has already bought the item whose cost cannot now be escaped (for example, a machine bought on credit, with a contract requiring annual payments for X years). If the firm stops producing, then its revenue and its short-run variable costs will fall to zero. But its costs that are not variable will remain. If the firm is losing money, in certain cases it will be better off continuing to operate until its obligations to pay the nonvariable (inescapable) costs expire; but in other cases it will do better by shutting down immediately and producing nothing. That decision obviously depends on whether or not by shutting down immediately, the costs the firm can avoid immediately are greater that the revenue it gives up by having nothing to sell any longer. More explicitly, two rules govern the decision: Rule 1. The firm will make a loss if total revenue (TR) is less than total cost (TC). In that case, it should plan to shut down, either in the short run or in the long run. Rule 2. The firm should continue to operate in the short run if TR exceeds total shortrun variable cost (TVC).

The first rule is self-evident. If the firm’s revenues do not cover its total costs, then it surely will lose money and, sooner or later, it will have to close. The second rule is a bit more subtle. Suppose that TR is less than TC. If our unfortunate firm continues in operation, it will lose the difference between total cost and total revenue: Loss if the firm stays in business 5 TC 2 TR

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However, if the firm stops producing, both its revenues and short-run variable costs become zero, but its nonvariable costs must still be paid: Loss if the firm shuts down 5 Nonvariable costs 5 TC 2 TVC

Hence, it is best to keep operating as long as the firm’s loss if it stays in business is less than its loss if it shuts down: TC 2 TR * TC 2 TVC

or TVC * TR, that is, (AVC)Q * PQ, or AVC * P

Case A

Case B

$100 80 60 140 60 40

$100 130 60 190 60 90

MC AC AVC

A

Price

That is, Rule 2. Its logic is simpler than it appears to be: A firm that is losing money should nevertheless stay in business (temporarily) if its revenue more than covers the variable costs that it can escape immediately, because the surplus of TR over TVC provides earnings that help to cover part of the remaining costs—the cost that the firm cannot escape in the short run. Surely, it is better to earn enough to pay off part of those inescapable costs than for the owners of the firm to bear the entire burden themselves and pay the inescapable costs in their entirety. Of course, the firm will not stay in business unless there is some output level at which P 2 AVC, the amount available to help cover inescapable costs, is positive. That is, with the price, P, fixed by industry supply and demand, it will not stay in business unless at the output at which AVC is as small as possible, P . AVC. We can illustrate Rule 2 with the two cases shown in Table 2. Case A deals with a firm that loses money but is better off staying in business in the short run. If it shuts down, it will lose its entire $60,000 worth of shortrun nonvariable cost. If it continues to TABLE 2 operate, its total revenue of $100,000 will The Shutdown Decision exceed its total variable cost (TVC 5 $80,000) by $20,000. That means continuing operation contributes $20,000 toward Total revenue (TR) meeting nonvariable costs and reduces Total variable cost (TVC) losses to $40,000. In Case B, in contrast, it Short-run nonvariable cost pays the firm to shut down because conTotal cost (TC) tinued operation merely adds to its Loss if firm shuts down (5 Short-run nonvariable cost) losses. If the firm operates, it will lose Loss if firm does not shut down $90,000 (the last entry in Table 2); if it NOTE: Figures are in thousands of dollars. shuts down, it will lose only the $60,000 in inescapable costs, which it must pay whether it operates or not. We also can analyze the shutdown decision graphically. In FIGURE 4 Figure 4, the firm will run a loss whether the price is P1, P2, or P3, Shutdown Analysis because none of these prices is high enough to reach the minimum level of average cost (AC). We can show the lowest price that keeps the firm from shutting down immediately by introducing one more short-run cost curve: the average variable cost (AVC) curve that shows how AVC varies, depending on the size of the firm’s output. Why is this curve relevant? Because, as we P3 B have just seen, it pays the firm to remain in operation only P2 if the price exceeds the lowest attainable AVC. An immediate conclusion is P1 The firm will produce nothing unless price lies above the minimum point on the AVC curve.

In Figure 4, price P1 is below the minimum average variable cost. With this price, the firm cannot even cover its variable costs and is better off shutting down (producing zero output).

0 Quantity Supplied

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P3 P2 P1

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Farming Economics: Ethanol-Driven Price Increases Rock the Food Chain

“Beef prices are up. So are the costs of milk, cereal, eggs, chicken and pork. And corn is getting the blame. President Bush’s call for the nation to cure its addiction to oil stoked a growing demand for ethanol, which is mostly made from corn. Greater demand for corn has inflated prices from a historically stable $2 per bushel to about $4. That means cattle ranchers have to pay more for animal feed that contains corn. Those costs are reflected in cattle prices, which have gone from about $82.50 per 100 pounds a year ago to $91.15 today. The corn price increases flow like gravy down the food chain, to grocery stores and menus. The cost of rounded cubed steak at

local Harris Teeters is up from $4.59 last year to $5.29 this year, according to TheGroceryGame.com, which tracks prices. The Palm restaurant chain recently raised prices as much as $2 for a New York strip. And so on. . . . The heightened demand for corn has decreased the supply of other grains, including soybeans, because farmers are shifting fields to make room for corn. Soybeans are a key ingredient in trans-fat-free cooking oils now in high demand as cities and counties ban fatty oils in restaurants and bakeries. . . . Now Sysco, a Houston food company that is a major supplier of transfat-free oils, says it is seeing pricing pressure on the product.” SOURCE: IndexStock/SuperStock

Because farmers are price takers, they simply have to live with the price that is determined by the market’s supply and demand. Here is an example:

SOURCE: Excerpted from Michael S. Rosenwald, “The Rising Tide of Corn: EthanolDriven Demand Felt Across the Market,” The Washington Post, June 15, 2007, p. D01.

Price P3 is higher. Although the firm still runs a loss if it sets MC 5 P at point A (because AC exceeds P3), it allows the firm to at least cover its short-run variable costs, so it pays to keep operating in the short run. Price P2 is the borderline case. If the price is P2, the firm is indifferent between shutting down and staying in business and producing at a level where MC 5 P (point B). P2 is thus the lowest price at which the firm will produce anything. As we see from the graph, P2 corresponds to the minimum point on the AVC curve.

The Perfectly Competitive Firm’s Short-Run Supply Curve The supply curve of a firm shows the different quantities of output that the firm would be willing to supply at different possible prices during some given period of time.

Without realizing it, we have now derived the supply curve of the perfectly competitive firm in the short run. Why? Recall that a supply curve summarizes in a graph the answers to questions such as, “If the price is so and so, how much output will the firm offer for sale?” We can now see that • In the short run, if the price is high enough for the firm to cover its AVC, then it pays a competitive firm to stay in business and produce the level of output at which MC equals P. Thus, for any price above point B, the lowest point on the AVC curve, in Figure 4, we can read the corresponding quantity supplied from the firm’s MC curve. We can now conclude that The short-run supply curve of the perfectly competitive firm that is not going out of business is the corresponding portion of its marginal cost curve where P 5 AR 5 MR 5 MC. P lies above the lowest point on the average variable cost curve—that is, above the minimum level of AVC. (But it should be remembered that if the market price is below the firm’s AVC at all output levels, as we have just seen, it will pay the firm to go out of business as quickly as possible, dropping its quantity supplied to zero.)

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Chapter 10

THE PERFECTLY COMPETITIVE INDUSTRY Now that we have completed the analysis of the perfectly competitive firm’s supply decision, we turn our attention next to the perfectly competitive industry.

The Perfectly Competitive Industry’s Short-Run Supply Curve Once again, we need to distinguish between the short run and the long run, but the distinction is different here. The short run for the industry is defined as a period of time too brief for new firms to enter the industry or for old firms to leave, so the number of firms is fixed. By contrast, the long run for the industry is a period of time long enough for any firm to enter or leave as it desires. In addition, in the long run each firm in the industry can adjust its output to its own long-run costs.4 We begin our analysis of industry equilibrium in the short run. With the number of firms fixed, it is a simple matter to derive the supply curve of the perfectly competitive industry from those of the individual firms. At any given price, we simply add up the quantities supplied by each of the firms to arrive at the industry-wide quantity supplied. For example, if each of 1,000 identical firms in the corn industry supplies 45,000 bushels when the price is $2.25 per bushel, then the quantity supplied by the industry at a $2.25 price will be 45,000 bushels per firm 3 1,000 firms 5 45 million bushels. This process of deriving the market supply curve from the individual supply curves of firms is analogous to the way we derived the market demand curve from the individual consumers’ demand curves in Chapter 6. Graphically, what we are doing is summing the individual supply curves horizontally, as illustrated in Figure 5. At a price of $2.25, each of the 1,000 identical firms in the industry supplies 45,000 bushels—point c in Figure 5(a)—so the industry supplies 45 million bushels—point C in Figure 5(b). At a price of $3, each firm supplies 50,000 bushels—point e in Figure 5(a)—and so the industry supplies 50 million bushels—point E in Figure 5(b). We can carry out similar calculations for any other price. By adding up the quantities supplied by each firm at each possible price, we arrive at the industry supply Firm curve SS in Figure 5(b).

This adding-up process indicates, incidentally, that the supply curve of the industry will shift to the right whenever a new firm enters the industry.

FI GURE 5 Derivation of the Industry Supply Curve from the Supply Curves of the Individual Firms

Industry

e

$3.00 c

2.25 s

S Price per Bushel

s Price per Bushel

The supply curve of the competitive industry in the short run is derived by summing the shortrun supply curves of all the firms in the industry horizontally.

The supply curve of an industry shows the different quantities of output that the industry would supply at different possible prices during some given period of time.

E

$3.00 C

2.25 S

45 50 Quantity Supplied in Thousands of Bushels (a)

45 50 Quantity Supplied in Millions of Bushels (b)

Industry Equilibrium in the Short Run Now that we have derived the industry supply curve, we need only add a market demand curve to determine the price and quantity that will emerge in equilibrium. We do this for our illustrative corn industry in Figure 6, where the blue industry supply

The relationship between short-run and long-run cost curves for the firm was discussed in Chapter 7, pages 141–143. 4

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curve, carried over from Figure 5(b), is SS and the demand curve is DD. The only equilibrium combination of price and quantity is a price of $3 and a quantity of 50 million bushels, at which the supply curve, SS, and the demand curve, DD, intersect (point E). At any lower price, such as E $2.25, quantity demanded (72 million bushels, as shown by point A on the demand curve) will be higher than the A C 45-million-bushel quantity supplied (point C). Thus, the price will be bid up toward the $3 equilibrium. The oppoD site will happen at a price such as $3.75, which is above equilibrium. Note that for the perfectly competitive industry, unlike 45 50 72 the perfectly competitive firm, the demand curve normally Quantity of Corn in slopes downward. Why? Each firm by itself is so small that Millions of Bushels if it alone were to double its output, the effect would hardly be noticeable. But if every firm in the industry were to expand its output, that would make a substantial difference. Customers can be induced to buy the additional quantities arriving at the market only if the price of the good falls. Point E is the equilibrium point for the perfectly competitive industry, because only at a price of $3 are sellers willing to offer exactly the amount that consumers want to purchase (in this case, 50 million bushels). Should we expect price actually to reach, or at least to approximate, this equilibrium level? The answer is yes. To see why, we must consider what happens when price is not at its equilibrium level. Suppose that the price is lower—say, $2.25. This low price will stimulate customers to buy more; it will also lead firms to produce less than they would at a price of $3. Our diagram confirms that at a price of $2.25, quantity supplied (45 million bushels) is lower than quantity demanded (72 million bushels). Thus, the availability of unsatisfied buyers will probably lead sellers to raise their prices, which will force the price upward in the direction of its equilibrium value, $3. Similarly, if we begin with a price higher than the equilibrium price, we may readily verify that quantity supplied will exceed quantity demanded. Under these circumstances, frustrated sellers are likely to reduce their prices, so price will be forced downward. In the circumstances depicted in Figure 6, in effect a magnet at the equilibrium price of $3 will pull the actual price in its direction, if for some reason the actual price starts out at some other level. In practice, prices do move toward equilibrium levels over a sufficiently long period of time in most perfectly competitive markets. Matters eventually appear to work out, as depicted in Figure 6. Of course, numerous transitory influences can jolt any real-world market away from its equilibrium point—a workers’ strike that cuts production, a sudden change in consumer tastes, and so on. Yet, as we have just seen, powerful forces push prices back toward equilibrium— toward the level at which the supply and demand curves intersect. These forces are fundamentally important for economic analysis. If no such forces existed, prices in the real world would bear little resemblance to equilibrium prices, and there would be little reason to study supply-demand analysis. Fortunately, the required equilibrating forces do step in, as appropriate, to bring markets back toward equilibrium. S

Price per Bushel

D $3.75 3.00 2.25 S 0

F I GURE 6 Supply-Demand Equilibrium of a Perfectly Competitive Industry

Industry and Firm Equilibrium in the Long Run The equilibrium of a perfectly competitive industry in the long run may differ from the short-run equilibrium that we have just studied, for two reasons. First, the number of firms in the industry (1,000 in our example) is not fixed in the long run. Second, as we saw in Chapter 7 (page 129), in the long run firms can vary their plant size and change other commitments that could not be altered in the short run. Hence, the firm’s (and the industry’s)

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Price per Bushel

long-run cost curves are not the same as the short-run cost curves. These differences can be very important, as we will see. What will lure new firms into the industry or encourage old ones to leave? The answer is profits—economic profits; that is, any part of the firm’s earnings that exceeds the average earnings of other firms in the economy and thus exceeds the firm’s costs, including its opportunity costs. Remember that when a firm selects its optimal level of output by setting MC 5 P, it may wind up with either a profit, as in Figure 2, or a loss, as in Figure 3. Such profits or losses must be temporary for perfectly competitive firms because new firms are free to enter the industry if profits that are greater than the average obtained elsewhere are available in our industry. For the same reason, old firms will leave if they cannot cover their costs in the long run. Suppose that firms in the industry earn very high profits, in excess of the normal rates of return currently available. Then new companies will find it attractive to enter the business, and expanded production will force the market price to fall from its initial level. Why? Recall that the industry supply curve is the horizontal sum of the supply curves of individual firms. Under perfect competition, new firms can enter the industry on the same terms as existing firms. Thus, new entrants will have the same individual supply curves as the old firms. If the market price did not fall, the entry of new firms would lead to an increased number of firms, with no change in output per firm. Consequently, the total quantity supplied to the market would be higher, and it would exceed quantity demanded—which, of course, would also drive prices down. Thus, the entry of new firms must push the price down. FI GURE 7 Figure 7 shows how the entry process works. In this diagram, the demand curve DD and A Shift in the Industry Supply Curve Caused by the original (short-run) supply curve S0S0 are carried over from Figure 6. The entry of new the Entry of New Firms firms seeking high profits shifts the industry’s short-run supply curve outward to the right, to S1S1. The new market equilibrium at point A (rather than at point E) indi(1,000 firms) cates that price is $2.25 per bushel and that 72 million (1,600 firms) S0 bushels are produced and consumed. The entry of new S1 D firms reduces price and raises total output. If the price had not fallen, the quantity supplied after the new firms’ entry would have been 80 milE F $3.00 lion bushels—point F. Why must the price fall in this A case? Because the demand curve for the industry 2.25 slopes downward, consumers will purchase the D increased output only at a reduced price. S1 S0 To see the point at which entry stops being attracted by high profits, we must consider how entry 72 80 50 by new firms affects existing firms’ behavior. At first Quantity of Corn in glance, this notion may seem to contradict the idea Millions of Bushels of perfect competition; perfectly competitive firms are not supposed to be affected by what competitors do, because no individual firm can influence the industry. Indeed, these corn farmers don’t care about the entry of new firms. But they do care very much about the market price of corn and, as we have just seen, the entry of new firms into the corn-farming industry lowers the price of corn. In Figure 8, we juxtapose the diagram of perfectly competitive firm equilibrium (Figure 2) with the perfectly competitive industry equilibrium diagram (Figure 7). Before the new firms’ entry, the market price was $3, point E in Figure 8(b), and each of the 1,000 firms produced 50,000 bushels—the point where marginal cost and price were equal, point e in Figure 8(a). Each firm faced the horizontal demand curve D0 in Figure 8(a). Firms within the industry enjoyed profits because average costs (AC) at 50,000 bushels per firm were less than price. Now suppose that 600 new firms are attracted by these high profits and enter the industry. Each faces the cost structure indicated by the AC and MC curves in Figure 8(a).

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Firm

Industry MC

(1,000 firms) S0

e

$3.00

D0

a

2.25

Price per Bushel

Price per Bushel

AC

D1

D (1,600 firms) S1

E $3.00

A 2.25

b

S0

D

S1

40 45 50

50

Quantity of Corn in Thousands of Bushels (a)

72

Quantity of Corn in Millions of Bushels (b)

F I GURE 8 The Perfectly Competitive Firm and the Perfectly Competitive Industry

F I GURE 9 Long-Run Equilibrium of the Perfectly Competitive Firm and Industry

As a result of the new entrants’ production, the industry supply curve in Figure 8(b) shifts to the right, and price falls to $2.25 per bushel. Because the height of the firm’s horizontal demand curve is, as we have seen, equal to the industry price, the firm’s demand curve must now move down to the brick-colored line D1 corresponding to the reduced market price. Firms in the industry react to this demand shift and its associated lower price. As we see in Figure 8(a), each firm reduces its output to 45,000 bushels (point a). But now there are 1,600 firms, so total industry output is 45,000 bushels 3 1,600 firms 5 72 million bushels, point A in Figure 8(b). At point a in Figure 8(a), some profits remain available because the $2.25 price still exceeds average cost (point b is below point a). Thus, the entry process is not yet complete. New firms will stop appearing only when all profits have been competed away. Figures 9(a) and 9(b) show the perfectly competitive firm and the perfectly competitive industry in long-run equilibrium. Only when entry shifts the industry supply curve so far to the right—S2S2 in Figure 9(b)—that each individual firm faces a demand curve that has fallen

Firm

Industry

AC

m D2

$1.87

Price per Bushel

Price per Bushel

MC D (2,075 firms) S2 M $1.87 S2

83

40 Quantity of Corn in Thousands of Bushels (a)

D

Quantity of Corn in Millions of Bushels (b)

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to the level of minimum average cost—point m in Figure 9(a)—will all profits be eradicated and entry cease.5 At the equilibrium point, m, in Figure 9(a), each firm picks its own output level to maximize its profit. As a result, for each firm P 5 MC. But free entry also forces AC to equal P in the long run—point M in Figure 9(b)—because if P were not equal to AC, firms would either earn profits or suffer losses. That would mean, in turn, that firms would find it profitable to enter or leave the industry, which is not compatible with industry equilibrium. Thus: When a perfectly competitive industry is in long-run equilibrium, firms maximize profits so that P 5 MC, and entry forces the price down until it is tangent to the firm’s long-run average cost curve (P 5 AC). As a result, in long-run perfectly competitive equilibrium it is always true that for each firm P 5 MC 5 AC

Thus, even though every firm earns zero profit, profits are at the maximum that is sustainable.6

Zero Economic Profit: The Opportunity Cost of Capital Why would there be any firms in the industry at all if, in the long run, they do not make a profit? The answer is that the zero profit concept used in economics does not mean the same thing that it does in ordinary, everyday usage. We have already encountered this and discussed its relevance in Chapter 8 (pages 159–160). Here we will explain this important point in a slightly different way. We have noted that when economists measure average cost, they include the cost of all of the firm’s inputs, including the opportunity cost of the capital (the funds) or any other inputs, such as labor, provided by the firm’s owners. Because the firm may not make explicit payments to some of the people who provide it with capital, this element of cost may not be picked up by the firm’s accountants. So what economists call zero economic profit will correspond to a positive amount of profit as measured by conventional accounting techniques. For example, if investors can earn 15 percent by lending their funds elsewhere, then the firm must earn a 15 percent rate of return to cover its opportunity cost of capital. The chance for investors to earn 15 percent on their money by putting it into the firm is what attracts them to do so. True, the 15 percent return is no more than the investors can earn by putting their money elsewhere, but that does not make their 15 percent receipt unattractive. HOW MUCH DOES IT REALLY COST? Opportunity Cost: Because economists consider the 15 percent opportunity cost in this example to be the cost of the firm’s capital, they include it in the AC curve. If the firm cannot earn at least 15 percent on its capital, funds will not be made available to it, because investors can earn greater returns elsewhere. To break even—to earn zero economic profit—a firm must earn enough to cover not only the cost of labor, fuel, and raw materials but also the cost of its funds, including the opportunity cost of any funds supplied by the owners of the firm.

Economic profit equals net earnings, in the accountant’s sense, minus the opportunity costs of capital and of any other inputs supplied by the firm’s owners.

IDEAS FOR BEYOND THE FINAL EXAM

An example will illustrate how economic profit and conventional accounting profit differ. Suppose that U.S. government bonds pay 8 percent interest, and the owner of a small shop earns 6 percent on her business investment. This shopkeeper might see this as a

5 If the original short-run equilibrium had involved losses instead of profits, firms would have exited from the industry, shifting the industry supply curve inward, until all losses were eradicated, and we would end up in a position exactly like Figure 9. EXERCISE: To test your understanding, draw the version of Figure 8 that corresponds to this case. 6 EXERCISE: Show what happens to the equilibrium of the firm and of the industry in Figure 9 if a rise in consumer income leads to an outward shift in the industry demand curve.

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6 percent profit, but an economist would see a 2 percent loss on every dollar she has invested in her business. By keeping her money tied up in her firm, the shop owner gives up the chance to buy government bonds and receive an 8 percent return. She is earning minus 2 percent in economic profit. With this explanation of economic profit, we can understand the logic behind the zero-profit condition for the long-run industry equilibrium. Zero profit in the economic sense simply means that firms are earning a return, but that return is just the same as the normal, economy-wide rate of profit in the accounting sense. This result is guaranteed, in the long run, under perfect competition, by freedom of entry and exit.

The Long-Run Industry Supply Curve

FIGURE 10

Price, Average Cost per Bushel

Short-Run Industry Supply and Long-Run Industry Average Cost

$2.62 S 1.50

0

We have now seen basically what lies behind the supply-demand analysis that we first introduced in Chapter 4. Only one thing remains to be explained. Figures 5 through 8 depicted short-run industry supply curves and short-run equilibrium. However, because Figure 9 describes long-run perfectly competitive equilibrium, its industry supply curve must also pertain to the long run. How does the long-run industry supply curve relate to the short-run supply curve? The answer is implicit in what we have just discussed. The long-run industry supply curve evolves from the short-run supply curve via two simultaneous processes. First, new firms enter or some existing ones exit, which shifts the short-run industry supply curve toward its long-run position. Second, and concurrently, as in the long run each firm in the industry is freed from its fixed commitments, the cost curves pertinent to its decisions become its long-run cost curves rather than its short-run cost curves. For example, consider a company that was stuck in the short run with a plant designed to serve 20,000 customers, even though it is now fortunate enough to have 25,000 customers. When it is time to replace the old plant, management will want to build a new plant that can serve the larger number of customers more conveniently, efficiently, and more cheaply. The reduced cost that results from the larger plant is the pertinent cost to both the firm and the industry in the long run. Finally, let us note that the long-run supply curve of the perfectly competitive industry (S2S2 in Figure 9) must be identical to the industry’s long-run average cost curve. This is because in the long run, as we have seen, economic profit must be zero. The price the industry charges cannot exceed the long-run average cost (LRAC) of supplying that quantity because any excess of price over LRAC would constitute a profit opportunity for others that would have attracted new firms and driven price down to average cost. Similarly, price cannot be below LRAC because firms would then have refused to continue to supply that output at this price and output would have fallen, driving price up until it equaled average cost. Therefore, for each possible long-run quantity supplied, the price must equal the industry’s long-run average cost. Thus, this long-run industry supply curve is also the industry’s average S cost curve, and that is the cost curve relevant for determination of long-run equilibrium price and LRAC B quantity in a standard supply-demand diagram. These ideas are illustrated in Figure 10, in which the short-run industry supply curve, SS, lies above and to the left of the long-run average cost curve, A LRAC. Consider any industry output—say, 70 million bushels of corn per year. At that output, the long-run average cost is $1.50 per bushel (point A). But if the 70 price charged by farmers were given by the short-run supply curve for that output—that is, $2.62 per bushel Output in (point B)—then the firms would earn $1.12 in ecoMillions of Bushels of Corn nomic profit on each and every bushel they sold.

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P OLICY D E B AT E

Should Government Regulators Use Perfect Competition as a Guide? competition is an undesirable and, indeed, impossible goal for such regulated industries. For example, if those industries are characterized by economies of scale, then breaking them into small firms will raise their costs and consumers will have to pay more, not less. Moreover, as we saw in Chapter 7, where there are economies of scale, the average cost curve must go downhill—the larger the firm’s output, the lower its average cost. So marginal cost must be below average cost (see the appendix to Chapter 8 for a review), and a price equal to marginal cost must also be below average cost—and therefore incur a loss rather than earn any profit. Thus, where there are economies of scale, if the firm is forced to charge a price equal to marginal cost it will be forced to go bankrupt! Even so, many regulators, economists, and others believe that perfect competition is so desirable a state of affairs that regulated firms should be required to come as close to it as possible in their behavior. SOURCE: © Hisham Ibrahim/Corbis

As we have seen here and will discuss further in Chapter 14, perfect competition displays the market mechanism at its best, at least in several important respects. It prevents firms from earning excess profits, forces firms to produce the output quantity at which AC is as low as possible, and has other virtues as well. As we will see in Chapters 11 and 12, markets where monopoly or oligopoly prevail are very different from perfect competition. In monopolistic or oligopolistic markets, a few large firms may charge high prices that yield large profits, and they may produce output quantities that do not match consumer preferences. Consequently (see Chapter 13), such industries are often regulated by government agencies. But just what should regulation force monopoly or oligopoly firms to do? Should it force them to behave like perfectly competitive firms? Should it force their prices to equal marginal costs? Should it try to break them up into thousands of tiny enterprises? No one believes that government regulation should go quite that far. Indeed, some economists and others argue that perfect

Such economic profits would induce other firms to enter the industry, which would force prices downward as the industry supply curve shifted outward. So long as this shift did not take SS all the way down to LRAC, some economic profits would remain, and so entry would continue. Thus, SS must continue to fall until it reaches the position of the long-run average cost curve. Then and only then will entry of new firms cease and longrun equilibrium be attained. The long-run supply curve of the perfectly competitive industry is also the industry’s long-run average cost curve. The industry is driven to that supply curve by the entry or exit of firms and by the adjustment of firms already in the industry.

We will see presently that the identity of the industry’s long-run supply curve and its LRAC curve provide us with some important insights.

PERFECT COMPETITION AND ECONOMIC EFFICIENCY Economists have long admired perfect competition as a thing of beauty, like one of King Tutankhamen’s funerary masks. (And it’s just as rare!) Adam Smith’s invisible hand produces results that are considered efficient in a variety of senses that we will examine carefully in Chapter 14. But one aspect of the great efficiency of perfect competition follows immediately from the analysis we have just completed. We saw earlier that when the firm is in long-run equilibrium, it must have P 5 MC 5 AC, as indicated by Figure 9(a), but we know that MC does not equal AC at any point on the AC curve that is moving either downhill or uphill (see the appendix to Chapter 8 if you need to be reminded why this is so). This implies that the long-run competitive equilibrium of the firm will occur at the lowest point (the horizontal point)

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on its long-run AC curve, which is also where that curve is tangent to the firm’s horizontal demand curve. In long-run perfectly competitive equilibrium, every firm produces at the minimum point on its average cost curve. Thus, the outputs of perfectly competitive industries are produced at the lowest possible cost to society.

An example will show why it is most efficient if each firm in a perfectly competitive industry produces at the point where AC is as small as possible. Suppose the industry is producing 12 million bushels of corn. This amount can be produced by 120 farms each producing 100,000 bushels, or by 100 farms each producing 120,000 bushels, or by 200 farms each producing 60,000 bushels. Of course, the job can also be done instead by other numbers of farms, but for simplicity let us consider only these three possibilities. Suppose that the AC figures for the firm are as TABLE 3 shown in Table 3. Suppose, moreover, that an outAverage Cost for the Firm and Total Cost for the Industry put of 100,000 bushels corresponds to the lowest (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) point on the firm’s AC curve, equal to 70 cents per bushel. Which is the cheapest way for the industry Firm’s Total Firm’s Average Number of Industry Industry to produce its 12-million-bushel output? In other Output Cost Firms Output Cost words, what is the cost-minimizing number of firms for the job? Looking at column (5) of Table 3, we 60,000 $0.90 200 12,000,000 $10,800,000 100,000 0.70 120 12,000,000 8,400,000 see that the industry’s total cost of producing the 120,000 0.80 100 12,000,000 9,600,000 12-million-bushel output is as low as possible if 120 firms each produce the cost-minimizing output of NOTE: Output is in bushels. 100,000 bushels. Why is this so? The answer is not difficult to see. For any given industry output Q, because Q is constant in the calculation, total industry cost (5 AC 3 Q) will be as small as possible if and only if AC (for each firm) is as small as possible—that is, if the number of firms doing the job is such that each is producing the output at which AC is as low as possible. That this kind of cost efficiency characterizes perfect competition in the long run can be seen in Figures 8 and 9. Before full long-run equilibrium is reached (Figure 8), firms may not be producing in the least costly way. For example, the 50 million bushels being produced by 1,000 firms at points e and E in Figures 8(a) and 8(b) could be produced more cheaply by more firms, each producing a smaller volume, because the point of minimum average cost lies to the left of point e in Figure 8(a). This problem is rectified in the long run by the entry of new firms seeking profit. We see in Figure 9 that after the entry process is complete, every firm is producing at its most efficient (lowest AC) level—40,000 bushels. As Adam Smith might have put it, even though each farmer cares only about his or her own profits, the corn-farming industry as a whole is guided by an invisible hand to produce the amount of corn that society wants at the lowest possible cost.

PUZZLE RESOLVED:

WHICH MORE EFFECTIVELY CUTS POLLUTION— THE CARROT OR THE STICK?

We end by returning to the puzzle with which the chapter began, because we now have all the tools needed to solve it, particularly the observation that the perfectly competitive industry’s long-run supply curve is also its LRAC curve. Remember that we asked: Should polluters be taxed on their emissions, or should they, instead, be offered subsidies to cut emissions? A subsidy—that is, a government payment to the firms that comply—would indeed induce firms to cut their emissions. Nevertheless, the paradoxical result is likely to be an increase in total pollution. Let us see now why this is so. In Figure 11, we have drawn the industry long-run average cost curve (LRAC), XX. We now know that this must also be the industry’s long-run supply curve, because if

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The Firm and the Industry under Perfect Competition

Chapter 10

FIGURE 11 Taxes versus Subsidies as Incentives to Cut Pollution

T D Price, Average Cost

X B E

S A

T D

X S

0

Qb

Qe

Qa

Output

SOURCE: © The New Yorker Collection 1970 James Stevenson From Cartoonbank.com. All Rights Reserved.

the supply curve lies above (to the left of) LRAC, then economic profits will be earned and entry will drive the supply curve to the right. The opposite would occur if the supply were below and to the right of LRAC. Now, a tax on business firms clearly raises the long-run average costs of the industry. Suppose that it shifts the industry’s LRAC, and thus the long-run supply curve, upward from XX to TT in the graph. This change will move the equilibrium point from E to B and reduce the industry’s polluting output from Qe to Qb. Similarly, a subsidy reduces average cost, so it shifts the LRAC and the long-run supply curve downward and to the right (from XX to SS). This change moves the equilibrium point from E to A and raises the industry’s polluting output to Qa. “So that’s where it goes! Well, I’d like to thank Our paradoxical result follows from the you fellows for bringing this to my attention.” presumption that the more output a polluting industry produces, the more pollution it will emit. Under the tax on emissions, equilibrium moves from E to B, so the polluting output falls from Qe to Qb. Thus, emissions will fall—just as common sense leads us to expect. But, with the subsidy, industry output will rise from Qe to Qa. Thus, contrary to intuition and despite the fact that each firm emits less, the industry must pollute more! What explains this strange result? The answer is the entry of new firms or the exit of old firms. A subsidy will initially bring economic profits to the polluters, which will in turn attract even more polluters into the industry. In essence, a subsidy encourages more polluters to open up for business. But our graph takes us one step beyond this simple observation. It is true that we end up with more polluting firms, but each will be polluting less than before. Thus, we have one influence leading to more pollution and another influence leading to less pollution. Which of these forces will win out? The graph tells us that if a rise in the polluting good’s output always increases pollution, then, in a perfectly competitive industry, subsidies must lead to increased pollution on balance. The corresponding explanation, entailing the exit of firms that are forced to pay a tax penalty for their emissions, applies to the use of taxes to discourage pollution.

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| SUMMARY | 1. Markets are classified into several types depending on the number of firms in the industry, the degree of similarity of their products, and the possibility of impediments to entry. 2. The four main market structures discussed by economists are monopoly (single-firm production), oligopoly (production by a few firms), monopolistic competition (production by many firms with somewhat different products), and perfect competition (production by many firms with identical products, free entry and exit, and full information). 3. Few, if any, industries satisfy the conditions of perfect competition exactly, although some come close. Perfect competition is studied because it is easy to analyze and because it represents a case in which the market mechanism works well, so that it is useful as a yardstick to measure the performance of other market forms. 4. The demand curve of the perfectly competitive firm is horizontal because its output is such a small share of the industry’s production that it cannot affect price. With a horizontal demand curve, price, average revenue, and marginal revenue are all equal. 5. The short-run equilibrium of the perfectly competitive firm is at the level of output that maximizes profits— that is, where MR 5 MC 5 price. This equilibrium may involve either a profit or a loss.

6. The short-run supply curve of the perfectly competitive firm is given by the firm’s marginal cost curve. 7. The industry’s short-run supply curve under perfect competition is the horizontal sum of the supply curves of all of its firms. 8. In the long-run equilibrium of the perfectly competitive industry, freedom of entry forces each firm to earn zero economic profit, or no more than the firm’s capital could earn elsewhere (the opportunity cost of the capital). 9. Industry equilibrium under perfect competition is at the point where the industry supply and demand curves intersect. 10. In long-run equilibrium under perfect competition, the firm chooses output such that average cost, marginal cost, and price are all equal. Output is at the point of minimum average cost. The firm’s demand curve is tangent to its average cost curve at its minimum point. 11. The competitive industry’s long-run supply curve coincides with its long-run average cost curve. 12. Both a tax on the emission of pollutants and a subsidy payment for reductions in those emissions induce firms to cut emissions. However, under perfect competition, a subsidy leads to the entry of more polluting firms and the likelihood of a net increase in total emissions by the industry.

| KEY TERMS | economic profit 209

price taker

perfect competition

supply curve of a firm

198

199

supply curve of an industry 204

variable cost

205

202

| TEST YOURSELF | 1. Under what circumstances might you expect the demand curve of the firm to be a. Vertical?

4. If the firm’s lowest average cost is $52 and the corresponding average variable cost is $26, what does it pay a perfectly competitive firm to do if

b. Horizontal?

a. The market price is $51?

c. Negatively sloping?

b. The price is $36?

d. Positively sloping? 2. Explain why P 5 MC in the short-run equilibrium of the perfectly competitive firm, whereas in long-run equilibrium P 5 MC 5 AC.

c. The price is $12? 5. If the market price in a competitive industry were above its equilibrium level, what would you expect to happen?

3. Explain why it is not sensible to close a business firm if it earns zero economic profits.

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Chapter 10

The Firm and the Industry under Perfect Competition

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| DISCUSSION QUESTIONS | 1. Explain why a perfectly competitive firm does not expand its sales without limit if its horizontal demand curve indicates that it can sell as much as it desires at the current market price. 2. Explain why a demand curve is also a curve of average revenue. Recalling that when an average revenue curve is neither rising nor falling, marginal revenue must equal average revenue, explain why it is always true that P 5 MR 5 AR for the perfectly competitive firm. 3. Regarding the four attributes of perfect competition (many small firms, freedom of entry, standardized product, and perfect information): a. Which is primarily responsible for the fact that the demand curve of a perfectly competitive firm is horizontal?

b. Which is primarily responsible for the firm’s zero economic profits in long-run equilibrium? 4. We indicated in this chapter that the MC curve cuts the AVC (average variable cost) curve at the minimum point of the latter. Explain why this must be so. (Hint: Because marginal costs are, by definition, entirely composed of variable costs, the MC curve can be considered the curve of marginal variable costs. Apply the general relationships between marginals and averages explained in the appendix to Chapter 8.) 5. (More difficult) In this chapter we stated that the firm’s MC curve goes through the lowest point of its AC curve and also through the lowest point of its AVC curve. Because the AVC curve lies below the AC curve, how can both of these statements be true? Why are they true? (Hint: See Figure 4.)

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Monopoly The price of monopoly is upon every occasion the highest which can be got. ADAM S M I TH 1

I

n Chapter 10, we described an idealized market system in which all industries are perfectly competitive, and in Chapters 14 and 16 we will describe the virtues of that system. In this chapter, we turn to one of the blemishes—the possibility that some industries may be monopolized—and to the consequences of such a flaw in the market system. We will indeed find that monopolized markets do not match the ideal performance of perfectly competitive markets. Under monopoly, the market mechanism no longer allocates society’s resources efficiently. This suggests that government actions to constrain monopoly may sometimes be able to improve the workings of the market—a possibility that we will study in detail in Chapter 13. But, first, as usual, we start with a real-life puzzle.

C O N T E N T S PUZZLE: WHAT HAPPENED TO AT&T’S “NATURAL MONOPOLY” IN TELEPHONE SERVICE?

MONOPOLY DEFINED Sources of Monopoly: Barriers to Entry and Cost Advantages Natural Monopoly

THE MONOPOLIST’S SUPPLY DECISION Determining the Profit-Maximizing Output

1

Comparing Monopoly and Perfect Competition Monopoly Is Likely to Shift Demand Monopoly Is Likely to Shift Cost Curves

PRICE DISCRIMINATION UNDER MONOPOLY

CAN ANYTHING GOOD BE SAID ABOUT MONOPOLY?

PUZZLE RESOLVED: COMPETITION IN TELEPHONE

Is Price Discrimination Always Undesirable?

SERVICE

Monopoly May Aid Innovation Natural Monopoly: Where Single-Firm Production Is Cheapest

But Adam Smith’s statement is incorrect! See Discussion Question 4 at the end of the chapter.

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Part 3

Markets and the Price System

PUZZLE:

WHAT HAPPENED TO AT&T’S “NATURAL MONOPOLY” IN TELEPHONE SERVICE?

We are all keenly aware of the strong competition in the market for telephone service. How can we miss it? A plethora of firms (old and new) offering telephone service of one kind or another besiege us with television commercials, pop-up ads on the Internet, and mountains of junk mail. The days of “Ma Bell,” the affectionate nickname for AT&T’s ubiquitous Bell Telephone System—which used to be virtually the only provider of telephone service—are long gone and now seem as quaint and old-fashioned as the horse and buggy. What was it that allowed competition in this industry, which had always been considered by some as a classic example of a “natural monopoly” against which no competitor could be expected to survive (see a fuller definition below)? In this chapter you will learn about the causes and consequences of monopoly and, in the process, obtain insights about the answers to this question.

SOURCE: © AP Images/DG

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MONOPOLY DEFINED A pure monopoly is an industry in which there is only one supplier of a product for which there are no close substitutes and in which it is very difficult or impossible for another firm to coexist.

The definition of pure monopoly has rather stringent requirements. First, only one firm can be present in the industry—the monopolist must be “the only game in town.” Second, no close substitutes for the monopolist’s product may exist. Thus, even a city’s sole provider of natural gas is not considered a pure monopoly because other firms offer close substitutes such as heating oil and electricity. Third, there must be a reason why entry and survival of potential competitors is extremely unlikely. Otherwise, monopolistic behavior and its excessive economic profits could not persist. These rigid requirements make pure monopoly a rarity in the real world. The telephone company and the post office used to be examples of one-firm industries that faced little or no effective competition, at least in some of their activities, but most firms face at least a degree of competition from substitute products. If only one railroad serves a particular town, it still must compete with bus lines, trucking companies, and airlines. Similarly, the producer of a particular brand of beer may be the only supplier of that specific product, but the firm is not a pure monopolist by our definition. Because many other beers are close substitutes for its product, the firm will lose much of its business if it tries to raise its price far above the prices of other brands. There is another reason why the unrestrained pure monopoly of economic theory is rarely found in practice. We will learn in this chapter that pure monopoly can have a number of undesirable features. The government has often intervened in markets where a pure monopoly might otherwise prevail, in order to prevent monopolization or to limit the discretion of a monopolist to set its price (for more on types of government intervention to constrain the power of monopolies, see Chapter 13).

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Chapter 11

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Monopoly

If we do not study pure monopoly for its descriptive realism, why do we study it? Because, like perfect competition, pure monopoly is a market form that is easier to analyze than the more common market structures that we will consider in the next chapter. Thus, pure monopoly is a stepping-stone toward more realistic models. More important, we will understand the possible evils of monopoly (and some of its possible benefits) most clearly if we examine monopoly in its purest form.

Sources of Monopoly: Barriers to Entry and Cost Advantages The key requirement for preservation of a monopoly is exclusion of potential rivals from the market. One way to achieve this result is by means of some specific impediment that prevents the establishment of a new firm in the industry. Economists call such impediments barriers to entry. Here are some examples.

1. Legal Restrictions The U.S. Postal Service has a monopoly position for some of its services because Congress has given it one. Private companies that may want to compete with the postal service directly in those services are prohibited from doing so by law. Local monopolies of various kinds are sometimes established either because government grants some special privilege to a single firm (for example, the right to operate a food concession in a municipal stadium) or prevents other firms from entering the industry (for instance, by licensing only a single cable television supplier).

Barriers to entry are attributes of a market that make it more difficult or expensive for a new firm to open for business than it was for the firms already present in that market.

2. Patents Some firms benefit from a special, but important, class of legal impediments to entry called patents. To encourage inventiveness, the government gives exclusive production rights for a period of time to the inventors of certain products. As long as a patent is in effect, the firm has a protected position and holds a monopoly. For example, Xerox Corporation for many years had (but no longer has) a monopoly in plain-paper copying. Most pharmaceutical companies also obtain monopolies on the medicines they discover. The drugmaker Pfizer, for instance, had a patent on Zoloft, which is a best-selling antidepressant medication. This patent expired at the end of 2005, which opened the door to competition from generic makers of the drug that has intensified, contributing to a decrease in the company’s earnings.2

A patent is a privilege granted to an inventor, whether an individual or a firm, that for a specified period of time prohibits anyone else from producing or using that invention without the permission of the holder of the patent.

3. Control of a Scarce Resource or Input If a certain commodity can be produced only by using a rare input, a company that gains control of the source of that input can establish a monopoly position for itself. Real examples are not easy to find, but the South African diamond syndicate used to come close.

4. Deliberately Erected Entry Barriers A firm may deliberately attempt to make entry into the industry difficult for others. One way is to start costly lawsuits against new rivals, sometimes on trumped-up charges. Another is to spend exorbitant amounts on advertising, thus forcing any potential entrant to match that expenditure.

5. Large Sunk Costs Entry into an industry will, obviously, be very risky if it requires a large investment, especially if that investment is sunk—meaning that it cannot be recouped for a considerable period of time. For example, production in an industry may require the firm to construct a large, expensive building of a very special type, and that expenditure will only be covered fully out of returns from company sales far in the future. Thus, the need for a large sunk investment discourages entry into an industry. Many analysts therefore consider sunk costs to be the most important type of “naturally imposed” barrier to entry. For example, the high sunk costs involved in jet airplane production helped Boeing Corporation enjoy a monopoly at the top end of the long-range, wide-body

2 Tim Annett, “The Afternoon Report: Patents & Profits,” The Wall Street Journal (Eastern edition), Online edition, April 20, 2007.

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jet airliner market for many years after the launch of the 747 jumbo jet. The rival aircraft manufacturer Airbus, which with European governments’ sponsorship has been able to afford the high investments, has since encroached on Boeing’s territory. Such barriers can keep rivals out and ensure that an industry is monopolized. However, monopoly can also occur in the absence of barriers to entry if a single firm has substantial cost advantages over potential rivals. Two examples of attributes of production that create such advantages are technical superiority and economies of scale.

6. Technical Superiority A firm whose technological expertise vastly exceeds that of any potential competitor can, for a period of time, maintain a monopoly position. For example, IBM Corporation for many years had little competition in the computer business mainly because of its technological virtuosity. Of course, competitors eventually caught up. More recently, Microsoft Corporation has established a commanding position in the software business, especially for operating systems, through a combination of inventiveness and marketing wizardry.

7. Economies of Scale If mere size gives a large firm a cost advantage over a smaller rival, it is likely to be impossible for anyone to compete with the largest firm in the industry.

Natural Monopoly

Average Cost

This last type of cost advantage is important enough to merit special attention. In some industries, economies of large-scale production or economies of scope (cost reductions from simultaneous production of a large number of related items, such as car motors and bodies, truck parts, and so on) are so extreme that the industry’s output can be produced at far lower cost by a single large firm than by a number of smaller firms. In such cases, A natural monopoly we say there is a natural monopoly. Once a firm becomes large enough relative to the size is an industry in which of the market for its product, its natural cost advantage may well drive the competition advantages of large-scale out of business whether or not anyone in the relatively large firm has evil intentions. production make it possible A monopoly need not be a large firm if the market is small enough. What matters is the for a single firm to produce size of a single firm relative to the total market demand for the product. Thus, a small bank in a the entire output of the rural town or a gasoline station at a less traveled intersection may both be natural monopmarket at lower average olies, even though they are very small firms. cost than a number of firms each producing a smaller Figure 1 shows the sort of average cost (AC) curve that leads to natural monopoly. It quantity. has a negative slope throughout, meaning that the more a firm in this industry produces, the lower its average cost will be. Suppose that any firm producing video games has this AC curve and that, initially, there are two firms in the industry. Suppose also that the larger firm is producing 2 million games at an average cost of $2.50 (point A), and the smaller firm is producing 1 million games that are no better than its rival’s at an average cost of $3.00 (point B). Clearly, the larger firm can drive the smaller firm out of business F I GURE 1 if it offers its output for sale at a price below $3.00 (so the smaller firm can match the Natural Monopoly price only by running a loss) but above $2.50 (so it can still make a profit). Hence, a monopoly may arise “naturally,” even in the absence of barriers to entry. Once the monopoly is established (producing, say, 2.5 milB lion video games–point C), its output is apt to grow even $3.00 larger, so that its AC will fall even further. The economies of A 2.50 scale act as a very effective deterrent to entry because no new C entrant can hope to match the low average cost ($2.00) of the 2.00 existing monopoly firm. Of course, the public interest may AC be well served if the natural monopolist uses its low cost to keep its prices low. The danger, however, is that the firm 1 2 2.5 may raise its price once rivals have left the industry. Many public utilities operate as regulated monopoly supQuantity Supplied pliers for exactly this reason. It is believed that the technology of producing or distributing their output enables them NOTE: Average cost is in dollars per unit; quantity is in millions.

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Chapter 11

Monopoly

to achieve substantial cost reductions by producing large quantities. It is therefore often considered preferable to permit these firms to achieve lower costs by having the entire market to themselves and then to subject them and their prices to regulatory supervision, rather than to break them up into a number of competing firms. We will examine the issues connected with regulation of natural monopolies in detail in Chapter 13. To summarize this discussion: There are two basic reasons why a monopoly may exist: barriers to entry, such as legal restrictions and patents, and cost advantages of superior technology or large-scale operation that lead to natural monopoly. It is generally considered undesirable to break up a large firm whose costs are low because of scale economies. But barriers to entry are usually considered to be against the public interest except where they are believed to offer offsetting advantages, as in the case of patents, which are designed to encourage invention.

The rest of this chapter analyzes how a monopoly can be expected to behave if its freedom of action is not limited by the government.

THE MONOPOLIST’S SUPPLY DECISION A monopoly firm does not have a “supply curve,” as we usually define the term. Unlike a firm operating under perfect competition, a monopoly is not at the mercy of the market; the firm does not have to accept the market’s price as beyond its control and adjust its output level to that externally fixed price, as the supply curve assumes. Instead, it has the power to set the price, or rather to select the price-quantity combination on the demand curve that suits its interests best. Put differently, a monopolist is not a price taker that must simply adapt to whatever price the forces of supply and demand decree. Rather, a monopolist is a price maker that can, if so inclined, raise the product price. Thus, the standard supply-demand analysis described in Chapter 4 does not apply to the determination of price or output in a monopolized industry. But it remains true that, for whatever price the monopolist selects, the demand curve for the product indicates how much consumers will buy. The demand curve of a monopoly, unlike that of a perfectly competitive firm, is normally downward-sloping, not horizontal. This means that a price rise will not cause the monopoly to lose all of its customers, but any increase will cost it some business. The higher the price, the less the monopolist can expect to sell. The market cannot impose a price on a monopolist as it imposes a price on the pricetaking perfectly competitive firm. But the monopolist cannot select both price and the quantity it sells. In accord with the demand curve, the higher the price it sets, the less it can sell.

In deciding what price best serves the firm’s interests, the monopolist must consider whether profits can be increased by raising or lowering the product’s price. Because of the downward-sloping demand curve, the sky is not the limit in pricing by a monopolist. Some price increases are not profitable because they lead to disproportionately large reductions in sales of the products. In our analysis, we will assume that the monopolist wants to maximize profits. That does not mean that a monopoly is guaranteed a positive profit. If the demand for its product is low, or if the firm is inefficient, even a monopoly may lose money and eventually be forced out of business. However, if a monopoly firm does earn a positive profit, it may be able to continue doing so in the long run because there will be no entry that competes the profits away. We can use the methods of Chapter 8 to determine which price the profit-maximizing monopolist will prefer. To maximize profits, the monopolist must compare marginal revenue (the addition to total revenue resulting from a one-unit rise in output) with marginal

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Is the Software Industry a Natural Monopoly?

One factor is diminishing costs: while the first copy of a software program costs millions to produce, the cost to produce subsequent copies is negligible. The second factor is the network effect in which the value of software increases by the number of people using it and developers creating applications for it. The third factor is the lock-in effect, in which the cost of switching to another system (installation, training, application compatibility) persuades users to stick with current systems. . . . These forces create natural barriers to entry for newcomers, and Microsoft’s operating-system dominance is a prime example.

SOURCE: AP Photo/Aynsley Floyd

Some leading economists believe the software industry is prone to monopoly. Three influences may incline the industry in this direction, as an article in InfoWorld describes:

SOURCE: Lynda Radosevich, “Top of the News: How the Software Industry Creates Monopolies,” Infoworld 20 (May 25, 1998).

cost (the addition to total cost resulting from that additional unit). Figure 2 shows a marginal cost (MC) curve and a marginal revenue (MR) curve for a typical monopolist. Recall that the firm’s demand curve (DD) is also its average revenue (AR) curve. That is because if a firm sells Q units of output, selling every unit of output at the price P, then the average revenue brought in by a unit of output must be the price, P, because the average of a bunch of equal numbers must be that same number. Since the demand curve gives the price at which any particular quantity can be sold, it also automatically indicates the AR (5 price) yielded by that quantity. Notice that the marginal revenue curve is always below the demand curve, meaning that MR is always less than price (P). We have already seen that this must be true in the appendix to Chapter 8, where it was demonstrated that if the AR curve slopes downward, the MR curve must lie below the AR curve, because it is this MR , AR that pulls the average down. This important fact is also easy to explain here in common-sense terms. The monopoly firm charges the same price to all of its customers. If the firm wants to increase sales by one unit, it must decrease the price somewhat to all of its customers.

F I GURE 2 Profit-Maximizing Equilibrium for a Monopolist

MC

Price per Unit

D P

AC

$9 M 7 MC 4 AC

C

D (AR) MR

0

150 Quantity

NOTE: Price is in dollars per unit.

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Monopoly

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When it cuts the price to attract new sales, all previous customers also benefit. Thus, the additional revenue that the monopolist takes in when sales increase by one unit (marginal revenue) is the price that the firm collects from the new customers minus the revenue that it loses by cutting the price paid by all of its old customers. This means that MR is necessarily less than P 5 AR; graphically, it implies that the MR curve is below the demand curve, as in Figure 2.

Determining the Profit-Maximizing Output Like any other firm, the monopoly maximizes its profits by setting marginal revenue (MR) equal to marginal cost (MC). It selects point M in Figure 2, where output is 150 units. But point M does not tell us the monopoly price because, as we have just seen, price exceeds MR for a monopolist. To learn what price the monopolist charges, we must use the demand curve to find the price at which consumers are willing to purchase the profit-maximizing output of 150 units. The answer, as we know, is given by the height of the demand curve at that output—it is given by point P directly above M. The monopoly price is $9 per unit. Not surprisingly, it exceeds both MR and MC (which are equal at $7). The monopolist depicted in Figure 2 is earning a tidy profit. This profit is shown in the graph by the shaded rectangle whose height is the difference between price (point P) and average cost (point C) and whose width is the quantity produced (150 units). In the example, profits are $5 per unit, or $750. To study the decisions of a profit-maximizing monopolist: 1. Find the output at which MR equals MC to select the profit-maximizing output level. 2. Find the height of the demand curve at that level of output to determine the corresponding price. 3. Compare the height of the demand curve with the height of the AC curve at that output to see whether the net result is an economic profit or a loss.

We also can show a monopolist’s profit-maximization calculation numerically. In Table 1, the first two columns show the quantity and price figures that constitute this monopolist’s demand curve. Column (3) shows total revenue (TR) for each output, which is the product of price times quantity. Thus, for 3 units of output, we have TR 5 $92 3 3 5 $276. Column (4) shows marginal revenue (MR). For example, when output rises from 3 to 4 units, TR increases from $276 to $320, so MR is $320 2 $276 5 $44. Column (5) gives the monopolist’s total cost for each level of output. Column (6) derives marginal cost (MC) from total cost (TC) in the usual way. Finally, by subtracting TC from TR for each level of output, we obtain total profit in column (7). The table brings out a number of important points. We note first in columns (2) and (3) that a cut in price may inTABLE 1 crease or decrease total revenue. When output rises from 1 A Profit-Maximizing Monopolist’s Price-Output Decision to 2 units, P falls from $140 to $107 and TR rises from $140 to $214. However, when (between 5 and 6 units of output) Revenue Cost Total Profit P falls from $66 to $50, TR falls from $330 to $300. Next we (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) observe, by comparing columns (2) and (4), that after the Q P TR 5 P 3 Q MR TC MC TR 2 TC first unit, price always exceeds marginal revenue (because the marginal revenue curve must lie below the downward0 — $ 0 $ 10 $210 $140 $60 sloping demand [AR] curve). Finally, from columns (4) 1 $140 140 70 70 74 50 and (6) we see that MC 5 MR 5 $44 when Q is between 2 107 214 120 94 62 46 3 and 4 units, indicating that this is the level of output that 3 92 276 166 110 44 44 maximizes the monopolist’s total profit. This is confirmed 4 80 320 210 110 10 43 in column (7) of the table, which shows that at this output 5 66 330 253 77 profit reaches its highest level, $110, for any of the output 230 45 6 50 300 298 2 quantities considered in the table.

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Comparing Monopoly and Perfect Competition This completes our analysis of the monopolist’s price—output decision. At this point, it is natural to wonder whether there is anything distinctive about the monopoly equilibrium. To find out, we need a standard of comparison. Perfect competition provides this standard because, as we will learn in Chapter 14, it is a theoretical benchmark of ideal performance against which other market structures can be judged. By comparing the results of monopoly with those of perfect competition, we will see why economists since Adam Smith have condemned monopoly as inefficient.

1. A Monopolist’s Profit Persists The first difference between competition and

Monopoly profits are any excess of the profits earned persistently by a monopoly firm over and above those that would be earned if the industry were perfectly competitive.

monopoly is a direct consequence of barriers to entry in monopoly. Profits such as those shown in Figure 2 would be competed away by free entry in a perfectly competitive market, because a positive profit would attract new competitors into the business. A competitive firm must earn zero economic profit in the long run; that is, it can earn only enough to cover its costs, including the opportunity cost of the owner’s capital and labor. But higher profit can persist under monopoly—if the monopoly is protected from the arrival of new competitors by barriers to entry. This can, then, allow monopolists to grow wealthy at the expense of their consumers. But because people find such accumulations of wealth objectionable, monopoly is widely condemned. As a result, monopolies are generally regulated by government, which often limits the profits they can earn.

2. Monopoly Restricts Output to Raise Short-Run Price Excess monopoly profit can be a problem, but economists believe that the second difference between competition and monopoly is even more worrisome: Compared with the perfectly competitive ideal, the monopolist restricts output and charges a higher price.

To see that this is so, let us conduct the following thought experiment. Imagine that a court order breaks up the monopoly firm depicted in Figure 2 (and reproduced as Figure 3) into a large number of perfectly competitive firms. Suppose further that the industry demand curve is unchanged by this event and that the MC curve in Figure 3 is also the (horizontal) sum of the MC curves of all the newly created competitive firms. These may be unrealistic assumptions, as we will soon explain; however, they make it easy to compare the output-price combinations that would emerge in the short run under monopoly and perfect competition. Before making our comparison, we must note that under monopoly, the firm and the industry are exactly the same entity, but under perfect competition, any one firm is just F I GURE 3 MC D Price per Unit

Comparison of a Monopoly and a Perfectly Competitive Industry

AC

P $9 B

M 7 MC

D (AR)

C AC MR 150

300

Quantity (millions) NOTE: Price is in dollars per unit.

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a small portion of the industry. So when we measure the performance of monopoly against that of perfect competition, we should compare the monopoly with the entire competitive industry, not with an individual competitive firm. In Figure 3, the monopolist’s output is point M at which MC 5 MR. The long-run competitive output (point B) is greater than the monopoly’s because it must be sufficiently large to yield zero economic profit (P 5 AR 5 AC). It is self-evident and not very interesting to observe that the output of the monopolist is virtually certain to be larger than that of a tiny competitive firm. The interesting issue is how much of the entire industry’s product gets into the hands of consumers under the two market forms—that is, how much output is produced by a monopoly as compared with the quantity provided by a similar competitive industry.

3. Monopoly Restricts Output to Raise Long-Run Price As we have seen, monopoly output is determined by the profit-maximization requirement that MC 5 MR (point M). Moreover, in Chapter 10, we learned that long-run perfectly competitive equilibrium occurs at point B in Figure 3, where price (5AR) and average cost are equal and economic profit is zero. By comparing point B with the monopolist’s equilibrium (point M), we see that the monopolist produces fewer units of output than would a competitive industry with the same demand and cost conditions. Because the demand curve slopes downward, producing less output means that the industry gets away with a higher price. The monopolist’s price, indicated by point P on the demand curve and directly above M, exceeds the price that would result from perfect competition at point B. This is the essence of the truth behind the popular view that unregulated monopolists “gouge the public.” The monopolist deliberately cuts back the amount of output produced in order to make the product scarcer and thereby force its price upward. We should note that matters will always turn out that way if the average cost curve has a positive slope between the monopoly output level and the competitive output level. That is because we know, in this case, that the MC curve must lie above the AC curve (to review why, see pages 173–174 of Chapter 8). We also have just seen that the MR curve must lie below the demand (AR) curve. It is clear, then, that the point where the MR curve meets the MC curve (the monopoly output) must always lie to the left of the output at which AC and AR meet (the competitive industry output). Consequently, monopoly output will always be the smaller of the two when the curves of the competitive and monopoly industries are identical. With monopoly output lower, its price will always be higher. 4. Monopoly Leads to Inefficient Resource Allocation We conclude, then, that a monopoly will charge a higher price and produce a smaller output than will a competitive industry with the same demand and cost conditions. Why do economists find this situation so objectionable? Because, as we will learn in Chapter 14, a competitive industry devotes “just the right amount” of society’s scarce resources to the production of its particular commodity. Therefore, if a monopolist produces less than a competitive industry, it must be producing too little. To summarize this discussion of the consequences of monopoly: Because it is protected from entry, a monopoly firm may earn positive economic profits; that is, profits in excess of the opportunity cost of capital. At the same time, monopoly breeds inefficiency in resource allocation by producing too little output and charging too high a price. For these reasons, some of the virtues of the free market evaporate if an industry becomes monopolized.

Monopoly Is Likely to Shift Demand This analysis need not always apply. For one thing, it has assumed that the market demand curve is the same whether the industry is competitive or monopolized. But is

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SOURCE: © Sidney Harris, www.sciencecartoonsplus.com

this usually so? The demand curve will be the same if the monopoly firm does nothing to expand its market, but that is hardly plausible. Under perfect competition, purchasers consider the products of all suppliers in an industry to be identical, so no single supplier has any reason to advertise. Advertising expenditure by firm X will bring most of its benefits to the other firms in the industry, because the ads, if they work, will induce customers to buy more of the identical product from among any of its many sellers. But if a monopoly takes over from a perfectly competitive industry, it may very well pay to advertise. If management believes that the creative touch of the advertising agency can make consumers rush to the market to purchase the product whose virtues have been extolled on television, then the firm will allocate a substantial sum of money to accomplish this feat. Take the Eastman Kodak Company, for example. Kodak enjoyed a near monopoly on U.S. film sales from the turn of the century until the 1980s, but that did not stop the company from spending a good deal on advertising. This type of expenditure should shift the demand curve outward. The monopoly’s demand curve and that of the competitive industry will then no longer be the same. The higher demand curve for the monopoly’s product may induce it to expand production and therefore reduce the difference between the competitive and the monopolistic output levels indicated in Figure 3. But it may also make it possible for the monopoly to charge even higher prices, so the increased output may not constitute a net gain for consumers.

Monopoly Is Likely to Shift Cost Curves The advent of a monopoly also may shift the average and marginal cost curves. One reason for higher costs is the advertising we have just been discussing. Another reason is the sheer size of the monopolist’s organization, which may lead to bureaucratic inefficiencies, coordination problems, and the like. At the same time, a monopolist may be able to eliminate certain types of duplication that are unavoidable for a number of small, independent firms: One purchasing agent may do the input-buying job where many buyers were needed before; a few large machines may replace many small items of equipment in the hands of the competitive firms. In addition, the large scale of the monopoly firm’s input purchases may permit it to take advantage of quantity discounts by its input suppliers that are not available to small competitive firms. If the consolidation achieved by a monopoly does shift the marginal cost curve downward, monopoly output will tend to move up closer to the competitive level. The monopoly price will then tend to move down closer to the competitive price.

CAN ANYTHING GOOD BE SAID ABOUT MONOPOLY? We conclude that our graphic comparison of monopoly and perfect competition is very artificial. It assumes that all other things will remain the same, even though that is unlikely to happen in reality. For that reason and others, there are certain cases in which monopoly may not be as damaging to the public interest as the previous discussion suggests. Let us consider some specific ways in which monopoly can offset some of its undesirable consequences.

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Monopoly May Aid Innovation Some economists have emphasized that it is misleading to compare the cost curves of a monopoly and a competitive industry at a single point in time. Because it is protected from rivals and therefore sure to capture the benefits from any cost-saving methods and new products it can invent, a monopoly has particularly strong motivation to invest in research, these economists argue. If this research bears fruit, the monopolist’s costs will be lower than those of a competitive industry in the long run, even if they are higher in the short run. Monopoly, according to this view, may be the handmaiden of innovation. Although the argument is an old one, it remains controversial. The statistical evidence is decidedly mixed.

Natural Monopoly: Where Single-Firm Production Is Cheapest Second, we must remember that the monopoly depicted in Figure 2 is not a natural monopoly, because its average costs increase rather than decrease when its output expands. However, some of the monopolies you find in the real world are “natural” ones. Where a monopoly is natural, costs of production would, by definition, be higher— possibly much higher—if the single large firm were broken up into many smaller firms. (Refer back to Figure 1.) In such cases, it may serve society’s interests to allow the monopoly to continue because consumers benefit from the economies of large-scale production. But then it may be appropriate to regulate the monopoly by placing legal limitations on its ability to set its prices.

PRICE DISCRIMINATION UNDER MONOPOLY So far we have assumed that a monopoly charges the same price to all of its customers, but that is not always true. In reality, monopoly firms can sell the same product to different customers at different prices, even if that price difference is unrelated to any special costs that affect some customers but not others. Such a practice is called price discrimination. Pricing is also said to be discriminatory if it costs more to supply a good to Customer A than to Customer B, but A and B are nonetheless charged the same price. We are all familiar with cases of price discrimination. For example, suppose that Erik and Emily both mail letters from Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, but his goes to New York while hers goes to Hawaii. Both pay the same 44¢ postage even though Hawaii is much farther away from Lewisburg than New York. Bargain airline fares are another example. Passenger C, who obtained a student discount, may find herself seated next to Passenger D, who has paid 25 percent more for the same flight and the same tastefree food. The airline example shows that price discrimination occurs in industries that are not monopolies. Still, it is easier for a monopolist to charge discriminatory prices than it is for a firm that is affected by competition, because price discrimination means that sales to some customers are more profitable than sales to others. Such discrepancies in profitability tempt rivals, including new entrants into the industry, to charge the more profitable consumers somewhat lower prices in order to lure them away from the firm that is “overcharging” them. Price discriminators sneeringly call this type of targeted entry cream skimming, meaning that entrants go after the best-paying customers, leaving the low payers (the “skimmed milk”) to the discriminator. Whether desirable or not, such entry certainly makes it more difficult to charge higher prices to the more profitable customers. Why do firms sometimes engage in price discrimination? You may already suspect the answer: to increase their profits. To see why, let us consider a simple example. Imagine a town with 100 rich families and 1,000 poor ones. The poor families are each willing to buy

Price discrimination is the sale of a given product at different prices to different customers of the firm when there are no differences in the costs of supplying these customers. Prices are also discriminatory if it costs more to supply one customer than another but they are charged the same price.

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one video game but cannot afford to pay more than $25. The rich, however, are prepared to buy one per family as long as the price is no higher than $75. If it cannot price-discriminate, the best the firm can do is to set the price at $25 for everyone, yielding a total revenue of $25 3 1,100 5 $27,500. If it charged more, say, $75, it would sell only to the rich and earn just $7,500. If the added cost of producing the 1,000 games for the poorer families is less than the $20,000 in added revenues from the larger sales to the additional poor customers who are led to purchase the games by the lower price ($27,500 2 $7,500 5 $20,000), then the $25 price must be more profitable than the $75 price. But what if the game maker can charge different prices to the rich and to the poor—and can prevent the poor from reselling their low-priced merchandise to the rich at a markup? Then the revenue obtainable by the firm from the same 1,100 video game output becomes $25 3 1,000 5 $25,000 from selling to the poor plus $75 3 100 5 $7,500 from selling to the rich, for a total of $32,500. This is clearly a better deal for the firm than the $27,500 revenue obtainable without price discrimination. Profits are $5,000 higher. In general: When a firm charges discriminatory prices, profits are normally higher than when the firm charges nondiscriminatory (uniform) prices because the firm then divides customers into separate groups and charges each group the price that maximizes its profits from those customers.

We have constructed our simple example to make the two profit-maximizing prices obvious. In practice, that is not so; the monopolist knows that if it sets a price too high, quantity demanded and hence profits will be too low. The discriminating monopolist’s problem is determining the different profit-maximizing prices to charge to different customer groups. The solution to this problem is given by another rule of marginal analysis. For simplicity, suppose that the seller proposes charging two different prices to two customer groups, A and B. Profit maximization requires that the price to Group A and the price to Group B are such that they yield the same marginal revenue, so that the MR from each customer group is equal to the MC of the product; that is, The marginal revenue from a sale to a Group A customer must be the same as that from a sale to a Group B customer: MRa 5 MRb

The reasoning is straightforward. Basically it amounts to this: Suppose you have been selling widgets to two customers and have two widgets left over. When would you be willing to sell one of this remainder to each customer, rather than selling both to only one of the customers? The obvious answer is that you will sell one to each if neither offers you a higher payment (MR) than the other. Thus, suppose that the sale of an additional video game to a Group A customer who lives in Richtown brings in MR a 5 $28 in revenue, whereas the corresponding sale to a Group B customer in Poorborough adds only MRb 5 $12. Such an arrangement cannot possibly be a profitmaximizing solution. By switching one unit of its shipments from Poorborough, with its B customers, and sending that unit instead to Richtown’s A customers, the firm gives up $12 in revenue to gain $28—a net gain of $16 from the same total quantity of sales. Because a similar argument holds for any other pair of marginal revenues that are unequal, profit maximizing clearly requires that the marginal revenue from each group of customers be equal. The equal-marginal-revenue rule enables us to determine the profit-maximizing prices and sales volumes for two such groups of customers diagrammatically. The two panels of Figure 4 show the demand curves and corresponding marginal revenue curves for customer groups A and B. Suppose that the firm is selling the quantity Qa to Group A customers at price Pa. How much must the firm then sell to Group B customers, and at what price, to maximize profits? Our rule gives the answer. The marginal revenue from selling to Group A is equal to H—as we see from point J directly above Qa on the MR curve

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Customer Group A

Customer Group B

Da Db Pb

Price

Price

Pa

H

0

W

J

Qa

MRa Quantity (a)

Da

0

Qb

H

MRb

Db

Quantity (b)

FI GURE 4 in Panel (a). The rule tells us that the firm must charge a price to Group B customers that induces them to buy the quantity that yields the same marginal revenue, H. We find this quantity by drawing a horizontal line HH through point J from Figure 4(a) to Figure 4(b). The marginal revenues of the two customer groups will clearly be equal where HH cuts the Group B marginal revenue curve—at point W. The profit-maximizing sales volume to Group B will be Qb, directly below point W. And at sales volume Qb, the market B price is clearly given by the corresponding point on the market B demand curve, price Pb directly above Qb.

Prices and Quantities under Price Discrimination

Given price and output in one of two markets (Figure 4a), to determine the profitmaximizing output and price in the other market (Figure 4b) under price discrimination, do the following: 1. Draw the demand and marginal revenue curves for the different customer groups (Group A and Group B) side by side. 2. For the first market (Group A, Figure 4a), draw a horizontal line through point J corresponding to the marginal revenue—quantity combination, which will set the price and quantity for Customer Group A at (Pa, Qa). 3. Knowing the marginal revenue H and output (Qa), point J, for the first market, find the profit-maximizing sales quantity for the second market where the horizontal line cuts the MR curve for the second group of customers, so that the MR levels are the same for both customer groups. 4. Knowing the marginal revenue H and point-maximizing sales quantity Qb for the second market, determine the second customer group’s profit-maximizing price Pb, point W, by locating the point on the demand curve corresponding to the profitmaximizing quantity.

That is not quite the end of the story: We have not yet said anything about costs, and we know that profit maximization must take account of costs as well as revenues. We can deal with the cost issue quite easily, at least if the marginal cost of a video game is the same whether supplied to an A customer or a B customer. Even under price discrimination, we still have the fundamental MR 5 MC rule for profit maximization in each market

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segment (see page 165 in Chapter 8). The extended profit-maximization rule under price discrimination then must be: MRa 5 MRb 5 MC

Is Price Discrimination Always Undesirable? Although the word discrimination is generally used to refer to reprehensible practices, price discrimination may not always be bad. Most people feel strongly that it is appropriate for the post office to charge the same price for all first-class letters going between two points in the United States, regardless of the differences in delivery costs. Similarly, most people approve of discounts on theater tickets sold to students or to senior citizens, even though those prices are obviously discriminatory. The same is widely agreed about lower doctor’s fees for needy patients. Other reasons, in addition to some standard of fairness or justice, may provide a defense for price discrimination in certain cases. One such case arises when it is impossible without price discrimination for a private firm to supply a product that customers want. For an illustration, go back to our numerical example of video-game price discrimination. Suppose that the total cost of producing 100 video games is $8,000, and the total cost of producing 1,100 video games is $30,000. Then our firm cannot cover its costs with a uniform, nondiscriminatory price. If it charged $75 to the 100 rich customers willing to pay that much, its $7,500 total revenue would fall short of its $8,000 total cost. Similarly, charging the uniform price of $25 to all 1,100 customers would yield total revenue of only $27,500, which is less than the $30,000 total cost. Thus, any uniform price would drive the firm out of business, depriving customers of the consumers’ surplus from purchasing the product. With discriminatory prices, we saw that the firm would earn $32,500, enabling the firm to cover the $30,000 cost of supplying the requirements of both sets of customers. It is even possible that price discrimination can make a product cheaper than it would otherwise be for all customers—even those who pay the higher discriminatory prices. As you may imagine, this can be true only if the production of the commodity involves significant economies of scale. For example, suppose that price discrimination permits the firm to offer lower prices to certain customers, thereby attracting some business that it would not otherwise have. The firm’s output will therefore increase. Scale economies can then reduce the firm’s marginal costs. If marginal cost falls enough, even the high-priced customer group may end up paying less than it would in the absence of price discrimination. The conclusion from this discussion is not that price discrimination is always a good thing, but rather that it is sometimes desirable. In particular, we must recognize that a firm may be unable to cover its costs without price discrimination—a situation that some observers consider to be relatively common.

PUZZLE RESOLVED:

COMPETITION IN TELEPHONE SERVICE

We conclude our discussion of monopoly by returning to the puzzle that began this chapter: Why are phone services around the country threatened by competition in an industry that was once considered the very definition of a natural monopoly? The answer has many parts, notably changes in the government’s rules and new rulings by the courts, but the main development that made competition in the industry possible is the huge change in telephone service technology.

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Monopoly

Until recently, the market for local telephone service was considered a natural monopoly. The primary reason was the need for very expensive transmission facilities, primarily the wires that had to enter every subscriber’s home. Local and state governments even disallowed competition in these markets because they believed that it would lead to wasteful duplication of such costly equipment and that this expensive duplication would lead to higher prices. Instead, local utility commissions regulated these monopolies to ensure adequate service and reasonable prices. Because long-distance calls also had to reach the home and office via those costly wires, the firm that owned them would have been in a position to control the industry and perhaps even to turn it into a monopoly once again, if government rules had not prevented it. Recent changes in communications technology have since made this market riper for competition. Computers and satellite technology have reduced the investment costs of providing phone service. Wherever you live, competition has become a reality, with cell phones that need no wires to connect to households. In addition, voice message transmission via the Internet often is far less costly and easily supplied by rival providers. Local landline phone companies still have some nearmonopoly power in their own geographic territories, but that power seems likely to erode before long.

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| SUMMARY | 1. A pure monopoly is a one-firm industry producing a product for which there are no close substitutes. 2. Monopoly can persist only if there are important cost advantages to single-firm operation or barriers to free entry. These barriers may consist of legal impediments (patents, licensing), the special risks faced by a potential entrant resulting from the need to incur large sunk investments, or the result of “dirty tricks” designed to make things tough for an entrant. 3. One important case of cost advantages is natural monopoly—instances in which only one firm can survive because of significant economies of large-scale production.

competitive supply curve has a positive slope, then monopoly output will be lower and price will be higher than they will be in the competitive industry. 6. Economists consider the fact that monopoly output tends to be below the competitive level to constitute an (undesirable) inefficiency. 7. Advertising may enable a monopoly to shift its demand curve above that of a comparable competitive industry. Through economies such as large-scale input purchases, a monopoly may be able to shift its cost curves below those of a competitive industry.

4. A monopoly has no supply curve. It maximizes its profit by producing an output at which its marginal revenue equals its marginal cost. Its price is given by the point on its demand curve corresponding to that output.

8. A monopoly may be able to increase its profits by engaging in price discrimination—charging higher prices for the same goods to customers who are less resistant to price increases, or failing to charge higher prices to customers whom it costs more to serve.

5. In a monopolistic industry, if demand and cost curves are the same as those of a competitive industry, and if the demand curve has a negative slope and the

9. The profit-maximizing discriminatory prices, and corresponding sales volumes, for a firm with several different customer groups can be determined with the

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help of an extended rule for profit maximization: that the marginal revenues from sales to each customer group must be equal to one another and to the firm’s marginal cost.

Some firms cannot survive without it, and price discrimination may even reduce prices to all customers if there are substantial economies of scale.

10. Price discrimination can sometimes be damaging to the public interest, but at other times it can be beneficial.

| KEY TERMS | barriers to entry

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natural monopoly

monopoly profits 224

patents

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price discrimination

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pure monopoly

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| TEST YOURSELF | 1. Which of the following industries are pure monopolies? a. The only supplier of heating fuel in an isolated town b. The only supplier of IBM notebook computers in town c. The only supplier of digital cameras Explain your answers. 2. The following are the demand and total cost schedules for Company Town Water, a local monopoly: Output in Gallons 50,000 100,000 150,000 200,000 250,000 300,000

Price per Gallon $0.28 0.26 0.22 0.20 0.16 0.12

Total Cost $ 6,000 15,000 22,000 32,000 46,000 64,000

How much output will Company Town Water produce, and what price will it charge? Will it earn a profit? How much? (Hint: First compute the firm’s MR and MC schedules.) 3. Show from the table in Test Yourself Question 2 that for the water company, marginal revenue (per 50,000-gallon unit) is always less than price. 4. A monopoly sells Frisbees to two customer groups. Group A has a downward-sloping straight-line demand curve, whereas the demand curve for Group B is infinitely elastic. Draw the graph determining the profit-maximizing discriminatory prices and sales to the two groups. What will be the price of Frisbees to Group B? Why? How is the price to Group A determined?

| DISCUSSION QUESTIONS | 1. Suppose that a monopoly industry produces less output than a similar competitive industry. Discuss why this may be considered socially undesirable. Is this because it is always socially beneficial to produce more of some product? 2. If competitive firms earn zero economic profits, explain why anyone would invest money in them. (Hint: What is the role of the opportunity cost of capital in economic profit?) 3. Suppose that a tax of $28 is levied on each item sold by a monopolist, and as a result, it decides to raise its price by exactly $28. Why might this decision be against its own best interests?

4. Use Figure 2 to show that Adam Smith was wrong when he claimed that a monopoly would always charge “the highest price which can be got.” 5. General Motors declared bankruptcy in 2009. If it goes out of business altogether, why might that not reduce the competition facing rival automaker Ford? (Hint: At what price would the assets of the bankrupt companies be offered for sale?) 6. What does your answer to the previous question tell you about the ease or difficulty of entry into the automobile industry?

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Chapter 11

7. A firm cannot break even by charging uniform (nondiscriminatory) prices, but with price discrimination it can earn a small profit. Explain why in this case consumers must be better off if the firm is permitted to charge discriminatory prices.

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8. It can be proved that, other things being equal, under price discrimination the price charged to some customer group will be higher the less elastic the demand curve of that group is. Why is that result plausible?

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Between Competition and Monopoly . . . neither fish nor fowl. JOHN HEY WO OD (C. 1565)

M

ost productive activity in the United States, as in any advanced industrial society, falls somewhere between the two extreme market forms we have considered so far. So if we want to understand the workings of the market mechanism in a real, modern economy, we must look at hybrid market structures that fall somewhere between perfect competition and pure monopoly. There are two such market forms— monopolistic competition and oligopoly—that are analyzed extensively by economists and are extremely important in practice. Monopolistic competition is a market structure characterized by many small firms selling somewhat different products. Here, each firm’s output is so small relative to the total output of closely related and, hence, rival products that the firm does not expect its competitors to respond to or even to notice any changes in its own behavior. Monopolistic competition, or something close to it, is widespread in retailing: shoe stores, restaurants, and gasoline stations are good examples. Most firms in our economy can be classified as monopolistic competitors, because even though they are small, such enterprises are abundant. We begin the chapter by using the theory of the firm described in Chapter 8 to analyze a monopolistically competitive firm’s price–output decisions, then we consider the role of entry and exit, as we did in Chapter 10. Finally we turn to oligopoly, a market structure in which a few large firms dominate the market. The steel, automobile, and airplane manufacturing industries are good examples of oligopolies, despite the increasing number of strong foreign competitors. Probably the largest share of U.S. economic output comes from oligopolists. Although they are fewer in number than monopolistic competitors, many oligopoly firms are extremely large, with annual sales exceeding the total outputs of most countries in the world and even of some of the smaller industrial European countries.

C O N T E N T S THREE PUZZLING OBSERVATIONS

The Excess Capacity Theorem and Resource Allocation

PUZZLE 1: WHY ARE THERE SO MANY RETAILERS?

1ST PUZZLE RESOLVED: EXPLAINING THE ABUNDANCE OF RETAILERS

PUZZLE 2: WHY DO OLIGOPOLISTS ADVERTISE MORE THAN “MORE COMPETITIVE” FIRMS?

OLIGOPOLY

PUZZLE 3: WHY DO OLIGOPOLISTS SEEM TO CHANGE THEIR PRICES So INFREQUENTLY?

MONOPOLISTIC COMPETITION Characteristics of Monopolistic Competition Price and Output Determination under Monopolistic Competition

2ND PUZZLE RESOLVED: WHY OLIGOPOLISTS ADVERTISE BUT PERFECTLY COMPETITIVE FIRMS GENERALLY DO NOT Why Oligopolistic Behavior Is So Difficult to Analyze A Shopping List Sales Maximization: An Oligopoly Model with Interdependence Ignored

3RD PUZZLE RESOLVED: THE KINKED DEMAND CURVE MODEL The Game Theory Approach Games with Dominant Strategies Games without Dominant Strategies Other Strategies: The Nash Equilibrium Zero-Sum Games Repeated Games

MONOPOLISTIC COMPETITION, OLIGOPOLY, AND PUBLIC WELFARE A GLANCE BACKWARD: COMPARING THE FOUR MARKET FORMS

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One critical feature distinguishing an oligopolist from either a monopolist or a perfect competitor is that oligopolists care very much about what other individual firms in the industry do. The resulting interdependence of decisions, as we will see, makes oligopoly very difficult to analyze and results in a wide range of behavior patterns. Consequently, economic theory uses not just one but many models of oligopoly (some of which we will review in this chapter), and it is often hard to know which model to apply in any particular situation.

PUZZLE:

THREE PUZZLING OBSERVATIONS We need to study the hybrid market structures considered in this chapter because many economic phenomena cannot be explained in terms of perfect competition or pure monopoly. Here are three examples:

PUZZLE 1: WHY ARE THERE SO MANY RETAILERS? You have undoubtedly seen road intersections with gasoline stations on every corner. Often, two or three of them have no customers at the pumps. There seems to be more gas stations than the number of cars warrants, with a corresponding waste of labor, time, equipment, and other resources. Why—and how—do they all stay in business?

PUZZLE 2: WHY DO OLIGOPOLISTS ADVERTISE MORE THAN “MORE COMPETITIVE” FIRMS? Many big companies use advertising as a principal weapon in their battle for customers, and advertising budgets can constitute very large shares of their expenditures. Such firms spend literally billons of dollars per year on advertising, seeking to leap ahead of their rivals. For instance, Procter & Gamble, the largest U.S. advertiser, reportedly spent $2.8 billion on advertising (about 23 percent of its 2008 net earnings).1 Yet critics often accuse oligopolistic industries containing only a few giant firms of being “uncompetitive.” Farming, in contrast, is considered as close to perfect competition as any industry in our economy, but few, if any, individual farmers spend anything at all on advertising.2 Why do these allegedly “uncompetitive” oligopolists make such heavy use of combative advertising, whereas very competitive farmers do not?

PUZZLE 3: WHY DO OLIGOPOLISTS SEEM TO CHANGE THEIR PRICES SO INFREQUENTLY? Many prices in the economy change from minute to minute. The very latest prices of commodities such as soybeans, pork bellies, and copper are available online 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you want to buy one of these commodities at 11:45 A.M. today, you cannot use yesterday’s price—or even the price from 11:44 A.M. today—because it has probably changed already. Yet prices of products such as cars and refrigerators generally change only a few times a year at most, even during fairly rapid inflation. Firms that sell cars and refrigerators know that product and input market conditions change all the time. Why don’t they adjust their prices more often? This chapter will offer answers to each of these questions.

MONOPOLISTIC COMPETITION For years, economic theory told us little about market forms in between the two extreme cases of pure monopoly and perfect competition. Then, during the 1930s, Edward Chamberlin of Harvard University and Joan Robinson of Cambridge University (working

Source: The Nielsen Company, “U.S. Ad Spending Fell 2.6% in 2008, Nielsen Reports,” press release, March 13, 2009, accessed online: http://en-us.nielsen.com/main/news/news_releases; and The Procter & Gamble Company, 2008 Annual Report, accessed online: http://www.pg.com/annualreport2008.

1

2

Farmers’ associations, such as Sunkist and various dairy groups, do spend money on advertising.

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separately) partially filled this gap and helped to make economic theory more realistic. The market structure they analyzed is called monopolistic competition.

Characteristics of Monopolistic Competition A market is said to operate under conditions of monopolistic competition if it satisfies four requirements, three of which are the same as those for perfect competition:

Monopolistic competition refers to a market in which products are heterogeneous but which is otherwise the same as a market that is perfectly competitive.

• Numerous participants—that is, many buyers and sellers, all of whom are small • Freedom of exit and entry • Perfect information • Heterogeneous products—as far as the buyer is concerned, each seller’s product differs

at least somewhat from every other seller’s product

Notice that monopolistic competition differs from perfect competition in only the last respect. Perfect competition assumes that the products of different firms in an industry are identical, but under monopolistic competition products differ from seller to seller—in terms of quality, packaging, supplementary services offered (such as windshield washing at a gas station), or merely consumers’ perceptions. The attributes that differentiate products need not be “real” in any objective or directly measurable sense. For example, differences in packaging or in associated services can and do distinguish otherwise identical products. However, although two products may perform quite differently in quality tests, if consumers know nothing about this difference, it is irrelevant. In contrast to a perfect competitor, a monopolistic competitor’s demand curve is negatively sloped. Because each seller’s product is different, each caters to a set of customers who vary in their loyalty to the particular product. If the firm raises its price somewhat, it will drive some of its customers to competitors’ offerings, but customers who strongly favor the firm’s product will not switch. If one monopolistic competitor lowers its price, it may expect to attract some trade from rivals. However, because different products are imperfect substitutes, it will not lure away all of the rivals’ business. For example, if Harriet’s Hot Dog House reduces its price slightly, it will attract those customers of Sam’s Sausage Shop who were nearly indifferent between the two. If Harriet were to cut her prices further, she would gain some customers who have a slightly greater preference for Sam’s product. But even a big cut in Harriet’s price will not bring her the hard-core sausage lovers who hate hot dogs. Therefore, monopolistic competitors face a demand curve that is negatively sloped, like that of a monopolist, rather than horizontal, like that of a perfect competitor who will lose all of his business if he insists on a higher price than that charged by a rival. Because consumers see each product as distinct from all others, a monopolistically competitive firm appears to have something akin to a small monopoly. Can we therefore expect it to earn more than zero economic profit? Like perfect competitors, perhaps monopolistic competitors will obtain economic profits in the short run. In the long run, however, high economic profits will attract new entrants into a monopolistically competitive market—not with products identical to an existing firm’s, but with products sufficiently similar to absorb the excess economic profits. If McDonald’s is thriving at a particular location, it can confidently expect Burger King or some other fast-food outlet to open a franchise nearby shortly. When one seller adopts a new, attractive package, rivals will soon follow suit with slightly different designs and colors of their own. In this way, freedom of entry ensures that the monopolistically competitive firm earns no higher return on its capital in the long run than that capital could earn elsewhere. In other words, the firm earns no excess economic profits. Just as under perfect competition, competition will drive price down to equal average cost, including the opportunity cost of capital. In this sense, although its product differs somewhat from everyone else’s, the firm under monopolistic competition has no more monopoly power than does one operating under perfect competition.

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F I GURE 1 Short-Run Equilibrium of the Firm under Monopolistic Competition

Let us now examine the process that ensures that competition will drive economic profits down to zero in the long run, even under monopolistic competition, and see what prices and outputs that process fosters.

Price and Output Determination under Monopolistic Competition MC

Price per Gallon

$3.40

$3.00 $2.80 $2.50

F I GURE 2

Price per Gallon

Long-Run Equilibrium of the Firm under Monopolistic Competition

$2.85 $2.70

The short-run equilibrium of the firm under monopolistic competition differs little from the equilibrium seen under monopoly. Because the AC firm faces a downward-sloping demand curve (labeled D in Figure 1), its marginal revenue (MR) curve will lie below its demand curve. P Like any firm, a monopolistic competitor maximizes profits by producing the output at which marginal revenue equals marginal cost (MC). In C Figure 1, the profit-maximizing output for a hyE pothetical gas station is 12,000 gallons per week, D and it sells this output at a price of $3.00 per gallon (point P on the demand curve). The firm makes 20 cents per gallon in profits, as depicted by the vertical distance from C to P. MR This analysis, you will note, looks much like 12,000 Figure 2 in Chapter 11 for a monopoly. The main difference is that monopolistic competitors are Gallons of Gasoline per Week likely to face a much flatter demand curve than pure monopolists do, because many products serve as close substitutes for the monopolistic competitor’s product. If our gas station raises its price to $3.40 per gallon, most of its customers will go across the street. If it lowers its price to $2.50 per gallon, it will have long lines at its pumps. The gas station depicted in Figure 1 is enjoying economic profits. Because average cost at 12,000 gallons per week is only $2.80 per gallon (point C), the station makes a profit of 20 cents per gallon on gasoline sales, or $1,200 per week in total, shown by the shaded rectangle. Under monopoly, such profits can persist. Under monopolistic competition, they cannot—because economic profits will entice MC new firms to enter the market. Although the new gas stations will not offer the identical AC product, they will offer products that are close enough to take away some business from our firm. (For example, they may sell Conoco or Shell gasoline instead of Exxon gasoline.) P When more firms enter the market, each firm’s M demand curve will shift downward (to the left). But how far will it shift? The answer is basically the same as it was under perfect competition: Market entry will cease only when the most that the firm can earn is zero economic profit—exactly E the same return the firm can earn elsewhere. D Figure 2 depicts the same monopolistically competitive firm as in Figure 1 after the adMR justment to the long-run equilibrium is com10,000 15,000 plete. The demand curve—and also the MR curve—has been pushed down so far by the Gallons of Gasoline per Week entry of new rivals that when the firm equates

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Chapter 12

Between Competition and Monopoly

MC and MR in an attempt to maximize profits (point E), it simultaneously equates price (P) and average cost (AC) so that economic profits are zero (point P). As compared to the short-run equilibrium depicted in Figure 1, price in long-run equilibrium is lower ($2.85 cents per gallon versus $3.00), more firms participate in the industry, and each firm produces a smaller output (10,000 gallons versus 12,000 gallons) at a higher average cost per gallon ($2.85 versus $2.80).3 In general: Long-run equilibrium under monopolistic competition requires that the firm’s output be at a level where its demand curve and its average cost curve meet, and there the two curves must be tangent, not crossing.

Why? Because if the demand curve were above the average cost curve or the two curves intersected, firms could produce output quantities at which price would exceed average cost, which means that participants would be earning economic profits, and that would draw an influx of new close-substitute products that would push down the demand curve. Similarly, if the average cost curve were above the demand curve at every point, the firm would incur an economic loss—it would be unable to obtain returns equal to those that its capital can get elsewhere, and firms would leave the industry. This analysis of entry is quite similar to the perfectly competitive case. Moreover, the notion that firms under monopolistic competition earn exactly zero economic profits seems to correspond fairly well to what we see in the real world. Gas station operators, whose markets fit the characteristics of monopolistic competition, do not earn notably higher profits than do small farmers, who operate under conditions closer to perfect competition.

The Excess Capacity Theorem and Resource Allocation One economically significant difference arises between perfect and monopolistic competition. Look at Figure 2 again. The tangency point between the average cost and demand curves, point P, occurs along the negatively sloping portion of the average cost curve, because P is the only point where the AC curve has the same (negative) slope as the demand curve. If the AC curve is U-shaped, the tangency point must therefore lie above and to the left of the minimum point on the average cost curve, point M. In other words, under monopolistic competition, the demand curve hits the average cost curve in a region where average costs are still declining. Average costs have yet to reach their lowest point. By contrast, the perfectly competitive firm’s demand curve is horizontal, so tangency must take place at the minimum point on the average cost curve. You can easily confirm this by referring back to Figure 9(a) in Chapter 10. This difference leads to the following important conclusion: Under monopolistic competition in the long run, the firm will tend to produce an output lower than that which minimizes its unit costs, and hence unit costs of the monopolistic competitor will be higher than necessary. Because the level of output that corresponds to minimum average cost is naturally considered to be the firm’s optimal capacity, this result has been called the excess capacity theorem of monopolistic competition. Thus, monopolistic competition tends to lead firms to have unused or wasted capacity.

It follows that if every firm under monopolistic competition were to expand its output, cost per unit of output would be reduced. However, we must be careful about jumping to policy conclusions from that observation. It does not follow that every monopolistically competitive firm should produce more. After all, such an overall increase in industry output means that a smaller portion of the economy’s resources will be available for other uses;

EXERCISE: Show that if the demand curve fell still further, the firm would incur a loss. What would then happen in the long run?

3

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from the information at hand, we have no way of knowing whether that choice leaves us better or worse off in terms of social benefits. Even so, the situation depicted in Figure 2 probably represents a substantial inefficiency. Although it is not clear that society would gain if every firm were to achieve lower costs by expanding its production, society can save resources if firms combine into a smaller number of larger companies that produce the same total output. For example, suppose that in the situation shown in Figure 2, 15 monopolistically competitive firms each sell 10,000 gallons of gasoline per week. The total cost of this output, according to the figures given in the diagram, would be:

Number of firms 3 Output per firm 3 Cost per unit 5 15 3 10,000 3 $2.85 5 $427,500 If, instead, the number of stations were cut to 10 and each sold 15,000 gallons, total production would be unchanged. But total costs would fall to 10 3 15,000 3 $2.70 5 $405,000, a net saving of $22,500 without any cut in total output. This result does not depend on the particular numbers that we used in our illustration. It follows directly from the observation that lowering the cost per unit must always reduce the total cost of producing any given industry output. That is, producing a given output, Q, always must have a lower total cost when average cost is lower: Specifically, if AC1,AC2, it must obviously always be true that TC1 5 Q 3 AC1 , Q 3 AC2 5 TC2. Society must gain in the sense of getting the same total output, Q, as before but at a lower total cost. After all, which do you prefer—a dozen cans of soda for $0.70 each or the same dozen cans for $0.55 each?

1ST PUZZLE RESOLVED:

EXPLAINING THE ABUNDANCE OF RETAILERS

The excess capacity theorem explains one of the puzzles mentioned at the beginning of this chapter. The highway intersection with four gas stations, where two could serve the available customers with little increase in customer delays and at lower costs, is a real-world example of excess capacity. The excess capacity theorem seems to imply that too many sellers participate in monopolistically competitive markets and that society would benefit from a reduction in their numbers. However, such a conclusion may be a bit hasty. Even if a smaller number of larger firms can reduce costs, society may not benefit from the change because it will leave consumers with a smaller range of choice. Because all products differ at least slightly under monopolistic competition, a reduction in the number of firms means that the number of different products falls as well. We achieve greater efficiency at the cost of greater standardization. In some cases, consumers may agree that this trade-off represents a net gain, particularly if the variety of products available was initially so great that it only confused them. But for some products, most consumers would probably agree that the diversity of choice is worth the extra cost involved. After all, we would probably save money on clothing if every student were required to wear a uniform. But because the uniform is likely to be too hot for some students, too cool for other students, and aesthetically displeasing to almost “Why have we come? Because only Earth offers the rock-bottom everyone else, would the cost saving really be a prices and wide selection of men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing net benefit? SOURCE: © The New Yorker Collection, 1997, Michael Maslin from Cartoonbank.com. All Rights Reserved.

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in the styles and sizes we’re looking for.”

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An oligopoly is a market dominated by a few sellers, at least several of which are large enough relative to the total market that they may be able to influence the market price. In highly developed economies, it is not monopoly, but oligopoly, that is virtually synonymous with “big business.” Any oligopolistic industry includes a group of giant firms, each of which keeps a watchful eye on the actions of the others. Under oligopoly, rivalry among firms takes its most direct and active form. Here one encounters such actions and reactions as frequent new-product introductions, free samples, and aggressive—if not downright nasty—advertising campaigns. A firm’s price decision may elicit cries of pain from its rivals, and firms are often engaged in a continuing battle in which they plan strategies day by day and each major decision induces direct responses by rival firms. Notice that the definition of oligopoly does not mention the degree of product differentiation. Some oligopolies sell products that are essentially identical (such as steel plate from different steel manufacturers), whereas others sell products that are quite different in consumers’ eyes (for example, Chevrolets, Fords, and Hondas). Some oligopolistic industries also contain a considerable number of smaller firms (example: soft drink manufacturers), but they are nevertheless considered oligopolies because a few large firms carry out the bulk of the industry’s business and smaller participants must follow their larger rivals’ lead to survive at the margins of the industry. Oligopolistic firms often seek to create unique products—unique, at least, in consumers’ perceptions. To the extent that an oligopolistic firm can create a unique product in terms of features, location, or appeal, it protects itself from the pressures of competition that will force down its prices and eat into its sales. Managers of large, oligopolistic firms who have occasion to study economics are somewhat taken aback by the notion of perfect competition, because it is devoid of all harsh competitive activity as they know it. Recall that under perfect competition firm managers make no price decisions—they simply accept the price dictated by market forces and adjust their output accordingly. As we observed at the beginning of the chapter, a perfectly competitive firm does not advertise; it adopts no sales gimmicks; it does not even know most of its competitors. But because oligopolists have some degree of influence on market forces, they do not enjoy the luxury of such anonymity. They worry about prices, spend fortunes on advertising (see “The Mad Scramble to Differentiate the Product” on the next page), and try to understand or even predict their rivals’ behavior patterns.

An oligopoly is a market dominated by a few sellers, at least several of which are large enough relative to the total market to be able to influence the market price.

Chapter 12

OLIGOPOLY

2ND PUZZLE RESOLVED:

WHY OLIGOPOLISTS ADVERTISE BUT PERFECTLY COMPETITIVE FIRMS GENERALLY DO NOT

The two reasons for such divergent behavior should be clear, and they explain the puzzling fact that oligopolists advertise far more than the supposedly far more competitive firms in perfectly competitive markets. First, a perfectly competitive firm can sell all it wants at the current market price, so why should it waste money on advertising? By contrast, Ford Motor Company and Toyota cannot sell all the cars they want at the current price. Because they face negatively sloped (and thus less than perfectly elastic) demand curves, if they want to sell more, they must either reduce prices (to move along the demand curve toward greater quantities) or advertise more (to shift their demand curves outward). Second, because the public believes that the products supplied by firms in a perfectly competitive industry are identical, if Firm A advertises its product, the advertisement is just as likely to bring customers to Firm B as to itself. Under oligopoly, however, consumer products are often not identical. Volkswagen advertises to convince consumers that its automobiles are better than Ford’s or Toyota’s. If the advertising campaign succeeds, Ford and Toyota will be hurt and probably will respond with more advertising of their own. Thus, the firms in an oligopoly with differentiated products must compete via advertising, whereas perfectly competitive firms gain little or nothing by doing so.

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Competition is fierce in the world of business, and companies will go very far indeed to outdo their rivals. In the summer of 2000, Pizza Hut’s advertising campaign was literally out of this world: The firm helped to bankroll Russia’s space agency by putting a 10-meter-high, $1.25-million ad on a Proton booster rocket. More recent advertising stunts include Snapple’s 2005 attempt to erect a 25-foot-tall popsicle in Times Square (it melted in the June heat), a glass elevator decorated to look like a giant Oreo cookie dunking into a glass of milk, and deodorant-maker Right Guard’s 2008 “pitvertising” campaign: London subway riders with miniature TV screens playing Right Guard commercials sewn into the armpits of their shirts. SOURCES: “Marketing: Guerrillas in Our Midst,” The Economist, October 14, 2000, p. 80; Gina Gayle, “Giant Popsicle Melts, Floods New York Park,” Associated Press, June 22, 2005; and Stephanie Clifford, “Summer Silliness Brings a Pizza Field and a Giant Oreo,” The New York Times, August 1, 2008.

SOURCE: Courtesy of Pizza Hut

The Mad Scramble to Differentiate the Product

Why Oligopolistic Behavior Is So Difficult to Analyze Firms in an oligopolistic industry—in particular, the largest of those firms—have some latitude in choosing their product prices and outputs. Furthermore, to survive and thrive in an oligopolistic environment, firms must take direct account of their rivals’ responses. Both of these features complicate the analysis of the oligopolistic firm’s behavior and prevent us from drawing unambiguous conclusions about resource allocation under oligopoly. Oligopoly is much more difficult to analyze than other forms of economic organization, because oligopolistic decisions are, by their very nature, interdependent. Oligopolists recognize that the outcomes of their decisions depend on their rivals’ responses. For example, Volkswagen managers know that their actions will probably lead to reactions by Ford, which in turn may require a readjustment of Volkswagen’s plans, thereby modifying Ford’s response, and so on. Where such a sequence of moves and countermoves may lead is difficult enough to ascertain, but the fact that Volkswagen executives recognize this possibility in advance, and may try to second-guess or predict Ford’s reactions as they initially decide on a marketing tactic, makes even that first step difficult to analyze and almost impossible to predict. Truly, almost anything can and sometimes does happen under oligopoly. The early railroad kings went so far as to employ gangs of hoodlums who fought pitched battles to try to squelch rival lines’ operations. At the other extreme, oligopolistic firms have employed overt or covert forms of collusion to avoid rivalry altogether—to transform an oligopolistic industry, at least temporarily, into a monopolistic one. In other instances, oligopolistic firms seem to have arranged to live and let live, via price leadership (discussed later) or geographic allocations, dividing up customers by agreement among the firms.

A Shopping List Because oligopolies in the real world are so diverse, oligopoly models in the theoretical world should also come in various shapes and sizes. An introductory course cannot hope to explain all of the many oligopoly models. This section offers a quick review of some oligopolistic behavior models. In the remainder of the chapter, we turn our attention to a

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particularly interesting set of models that use methods such as game theory to analyze oligopolistic firm behavior.

1. Ignoring Interdependence One simple approach to the problem of oligopolistic interdependence is to assume that the oligopolists themselves ignore it—that they behave as if their actions will not elicit reactions from their rivals. Perhaps an oligopolist, finding the “If they think that we think that they think . . . ” chain of reasoning too complex, will decide to ignore rivals’ behavior. The firm may then just seek to maximize profits, assuming that its decisions will not affect its rivals’ strategies. In this case, economists can analyze oligopoly in the same way they look at monopoly, which we described in Chapter 11. Probably no oligopolist totally ignores all of its major rivals’ decisions, but many of them seem to do so as they make their more routine decisions, which are nevertheless often quite important.

2. Strategic Interaction Although some oligopolists may ignore interdependence some of the time, models based on such behavior probably do not offer a general explanation for most oligopoly behavior most of the time. The reason is simple: Because they operate in the same market, the price and output decisions of soapsuds makers Brand X and Brand Y really are interdependent. Suppose, for example, that Brand X, Inc., managers decide to cut their soapsuds’ price from $1.12 to $1.05, on the assumption that rival Brand Y, Inc., will ignore this move and continue to charge $1.12 per box. Brand X decides to manufacture 5 million boxes per year and to spend $1 million per year on advertising. It may find itself surprised when Brand Y cuts its price to $1.00 per box, raises production to 8 million boxes per year, and sponsors the Super Bowl! In such a case, Brand X’s profits will suffer, and the company will wish it had not cut its price in the first place. Most important for our purposes, Brand X managers will learn not to ignore interdependence in the future. For many oligopolies, then, competition may resemble military operations involving tactics, strategies, moves, and countermoves. Thus, we must consider models that deal explicitly with oligopolistic interdependence. 3. Cartels The opposite of ignoring interdependence occurs when all firms in an oligopoly try to do something about their interdependence and agree to set price and output, acting as a monopolist would. In a cartel, firms collude directly to coordinate their actions to transform the industry into a giant monopoly. A notable cartel is the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which first began making joint decisions on oil production in the 1970s. For a while, OPEC was one of the most spectacularly successful cartels in history. By restricting output, its member nations managed to quadruple the price of oil between 1973 and 1974. Unlike most cartels, which come apart because of internal bickering or other reasons, OPEC held together through two worldwide recessions and a variety of unsettling political events. It struck again with huge price increases between 1979 and 1980. In the mid-1980s, its members began to act in ways that did not promote the interest of the entire industry and oil prices tumbled, but prices have since risen spectacularly and OPEC continues to dominate the world oil market. (See “OPEC Says Market Woes Cloud Output View” on the next page for more recent news of OPEC and oil prices.) OPEC’s early success is hardly the norm. Cartels are difficult to organize and even more difficult to enforce. Firms struggle to agree on such things as the amount by which each will reduce its output in order to help push up the price. For a cartel to survive, each member must agree to produce no more output than that assigned to it by the group. Yet once the cartel drives up the price and increases profitability, each member faces the temptation to offer secret discounts that lure some of the now very profitable business away from other members. When this happens, or even when members begin to suspect one another of doing so, the collusive agreement often begins to come apart. Each member

A cartel is a group of sellers of a product who have joined together to control its production, sales, and price in the hope of obtaining the advantages of monopoly.

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begins suspecting the others and is tempted to cut its price first, before the others beat it to the punch. For this reason, cartels usually adopt elaborate policing arrangements. In effect, they spy on each member firm to ensure that it does not sell more than it is supposed to or shave the price below that chosen by the cartel. This means that cartels are unlikely to succeed or to last very long if the firms sell many, varied products whose prices are difficult to compare and whose outputs are difficult to monitor. In addition, if firms frequently negotiate prices on a customer-by-customer basis and often offer special discounts to favored buyers, a cartel may be almost impossible to arrange. Many economists consider cartels to be the worst form of market organization, in terms of efficiency and consumer welfare. A successful cartel may end up charging the monopoly price and obtaining monopoly profits. But because the firms do not actually combine operations, cartels offer the public no offsetting benefits in the form of economies of large-scale production. For these and other reasons, open collusion on prices and outputs among firms is illegal in the United States, as we will see in Chapter 13. Outright cartel arrangements rarely occur within the United States, although they are common in some other countries. Only one major exception occurs in the United States: Government regulations have sometimes forced industries such as railroads and gas pipeline transportation to behave as cartels. Regulations prohibited these firms from undercutting the prices set by the regulatory agencies—an exception that we will discuss in Chapter 13.

4. Price Leadership and Tacit Collusion Overt collusion—in which firms actually meet or communicate directly in some other way to decide on prices and outputs—is quite rare, presumably because it is illegal and can result in large fines or other penalties. But some observers think that tacit collusion—where firms, without meeting together, try to do unto their competitors as they hope their competitors will do unto them—occurs quite commonly among oligopolists in our economy. Oligopolists who do not want to rock a very profitable boat may seek to find some indirect way of communicating with

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates—Damping expectations that it will pump more crude to ease high prices, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries said uncertainties over world economic growth were clouding the outlook for oil demand. The 12-member group, which pumps about 40% of the world’s oil, said in its monthly market report that a “more bearish economic trend,” partly triggered by the U.S. problems with subprime lending, may hurt demand growth in the second half. At this time, though, OPEC expects demand for its crude to rise to 31.14 million barrels a day in the third quarter, and to 31.32 million barrels a day in the fourth quarter, from 30.30 million barrels a day in the second quarter. OPEC expects daily demand for its crude to average under 30.8 million barrels next year, 239,000 barrels a day lower than the 31 million barrels a day forecast for this year. OPEC also said crude inventories are comfortable in the U.S. and for industrialized nations. . . . The International Energy Agency, which monitors oil markets on behalf of industrialized nations, has warned of rising prices if economic growth and oil demand continue to rise and if OPEC doesn’t raise crude production.

SOURCE: © Bettmann/CORBIS

OPEC Says Market Woes Cloud Output View

SOURCE: Excerpted from Oliver Klaus and Ayesha Daya, “OPEC Says Market Woes Cloud Output View,” The Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2007, p. A4. Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal. Copyright © 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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P OLICY D E B AT E Antitrust laws unequivocally prohibit price fixing—collusion among competitors in which they agree on their pricing policies (see Chapter 13). Suppose that the firms in an industry, recognizing their interdependence, simply decide to go along with each other’s decisions? Is this collusion by long distance? Should it be declared illegal? Should the government require such a firm to “make believe” that it does not know how competitors will respond to its price moves? Must firms act as if they were not interdependent? If such requirements make no sense, what should the government require of oligopolistic firms? The airline industry constantly illustrates this issue and its complexities. In 1992, American Airlines decided that the vast number of different airline fares and discounts hurt all airlines and that the industry needed a simplified fare structure. American offered a new, simplified pricing plan called “value pricing,” in the hope that other airlines would copy that structure widely. A few weeks later, Northwest Airlines introduced a special vacation travel deal that undercut American’s pricing. This led to a price war, and American had to withdraw its plan, losing considerable money in the process. In this case, American’s rivals did not go along with a price leader’s decision. In a more recent set of events, matters worked out differently. The airlines, which have lost money for years, have been seeking ways to cut costs by reducing wages, firing employees, and so on. As oil prices rose in early 2008, these cost-cutting efforts proved insufficient, and airlines began imposing new surcharges and fees on their customers. In May of 2008, American Airlines was the first major carrier to announce that it would charge passengers for the first checked bag. This

SOURCE: © Peter Christopher/Masterfile

Acting on Recognized Interdependence versus “Tacit Collusion”

move was risky—if other airlines did not adopt similar surcharges, American could lose much of its business to competitors. But even before American’s surcharge became effective, two other major airlines followed suit by announcing that they would adopt the same $15 fee for the first checked bag. By the end of 2008, seven major airlines in the United States had enacted similar fees. As of this writing, two of these airlines, Delta and AirTran, have been sued for this parallel conduct. That complaint alleges that Delta and AirTran colluded by explicitly coordinating the introduction of their new luggage fees. Presumably there is no evidence that the other airlines consulted one another before adopting identical surcharges.

one another, signaling their intentions and managing the market accordingly. Each tacitly colluding firm hopes that if it does not make things too difficult for its competitors, its rivals will return the favor. For example, three major makers of infant formula—Abbott Laboratories, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and American Home Products—were accused of conspiring against competitors by keeping their wholesale prices only a few cents apart. The formula makers denied any wrongdoing. (See “Acting on Recognized Interdependence versus ‘Tacit Collusion’” above for another example.) One common form of tacit collusion is price leadership, an arrangement in which one firm in the industry, in effect, makes pricing decisions for the entire group. Other firms are expected to adopt the prices set by the price leader, even though no explicit agreement exists—only tacit consent. Often, the price leader will be the largest firm in the industry. But in some price-leadership arrangements, the leadership role may rotate from one firm to another. For example, analysts suggested that for many years the steel industry conformed to the price-leadership model, with U.S. Steel and Bethlehem Steel assuming the leadership role at different times. Price leadership does overcome some problems for the firms that result from oligopolistic interdependence, although it does not provide the only possible way of doing so. If Brand X, Inc. acts as price leader for the soapsuds industry, it can predict how Brand Y, Inc. will react to any price increases that it announces: Brand Y will match the increases. Similarly, Brand Z, Inc. executives will be able to predict Brand Y’s behavior as long as the price-leadership arrangement holds up. One problem besetting price leadership is that, although the oligopolists as an industry may benefit by avoiding a damaging price war, the firms may not benefit equally. The

Under price leadership, one firm sets the price for the industry and the others follow. In a price war, each competing firm is determined to sell at a price that is lower than the prices of its rivals, often regardless of whether that price covers the pertinent cost. Typically, in such a price war, Firm A cuts its price below Firm B’s price; B retaliates by undercutting A; and so on and on until some of the competitor firms surrender and let themselves be undersold.

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price-leading firm may be able to enhance its own profits more easily than any of the other firms in the group can. But if the price leader does not consider its rivals’ welfare as it makes price decisions, it may find itself dethroned! Like cartels, such arrangements can easily break down.

Sales Maximization: An Oligopoly Model with Interdependence Ignored A firm’s objective is said to be sales maximization if it seeks to adopt prices and output quantities that make its total revenue (the money value of its sales), rather than its profits, as large as possible.

Early in our analysis of the firm we discussed the profit-maximization hypothesis, and we noted that firms have other possible objectives. Among these alternative goals, one has attracted much attention: sales maximization. Modern industrial firms are managed by people who are not the owners of the companies. Paid executives manage the firms, working for the company on a full-time basis. These managers may begin to believe that whatever is good for them as individuals must be good for the company. The owners may be a large and diverse group of stockholders, most of whom own only a tiny fraction of the outstanding stock. They may take little interest in the company’s day-to-day operations and may feel no real sense of ownership. In such a situation, managers’ goals may influence company decisions more strongly than the owners’ goal of profit maximization. Some statistical evidence, for example, suggests that management’s compensation often relates more directly to company size, as measured by sales volume, than to profit. The president of a large firm generally fetches a much higher salary—and bigger incentive rewards— than the president of a tiny company. Therefore, firm managers may select price—output combinations that maximize sales rather than profits. But does sales maximization lead to different outcomes than profit maximization? We shall see shortly that the answer is yes. The graph in Figure 3 should be familiar by now. It shows the marginal cost (MC) and average cost (AC) curves for a soapsuds firm—in this case Brand X, Inc.—along with its demand and marginal revenue (MR) curves. We have used such diagrams before and thus know that if the company wants to maximize profits, it will select point A, where MC 5 MR. Brand X will produce 2.5 million boxes of soapsuds per year and sell them at $1 each (point E on the demand curve above A). Because average cost at this level of output is only 80 cents per box, X earns 20 cents economic profit per unit. Total profits are therefore $0.20 3 2,500,000 5 $500,000 per year. This is the highest attainable profit level for Brand X. What if Brand X chooses to maximize total sales revenue instead? In this case, it will want to keep producing until MR falls to zero; that is, it will select point B. Why? By definition, MR is the additional revenue obtained by raising output by one unit. If the firm wishes to maximize total revenue, then whenever MR is positive, it will want to increase output further, and anytime that MR becomes negative, X’s management will want to decrease output. Only when MR = 0 can management possibly have maximized total sales revenue.4 Thus, if Brand X is a sales maximizer, it will produce 3.75 million boxes of soapsuds per year (point B), and charge 75 cents per box (point F). Because average costs at this level of production are only 69 cents per box, profit per unit is 6 cents and, with 3.75 million units sold, total profit is $225,000. Naturally, this profit is substantially less than the $500,000 profit the firm can achieve if it reduces output to the profit-maximizing level. But that is not the goal of Brand X’s management. The firm’s sales revenue at point B is 75 cents per unit times 3.75 million units, or $2,812,500, whereas at point A it was only $2,500,000 (2.5 million units at $1.00 each). We conclude that If a firm is maximizing sales revenue, it will produce more output and charge a lower price than it would if it were maximizing profits.

The logic here is exactly the same as the logic that led to the conclusion that a firm maximized profits by setting marginal profit equal to zero. If you need to review, consult Chapter 8, especially pages 163–165. 4

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FI GURE 3 MC

AC

E

$1.00 Price per Box

Sales-Maximization Equilibrium

.80 .75 .69

F

A

D

2.5

B 3.75

MR Millions of Boxes per Year

Figure 3 clearly shows that this result holds for Brand X, but does it always hold? The answer is yes. Look again at Figure 3, but ignore the numbers on the axes. At point A, where MR = MC, marginal revenue must be positive because it equals marginal cost (which, we may assume, is always positive—output can normally not be increased at zero additional cost). At point B, MR is equal to zero. Because the marginal revenue curve slopes negatively, the point where it reaches zero (point B) must necessarily correspond to a higher output level than does the point where it cuts the marginal cost curve (point A). Thus, sales-maximizing firms always produce more than profit-maximizing firms and, to sell this greater volume of output, they must charge lower prices.5

3RD PUZZLE RESOLVED:

THE KINKED DEMAND CURVE MODEL

6

Another oligopoly analysis model was designed to explain the alleged “stickiness” in oligopolistic pricing, meaning that prices in oligopolistic markets change far less frequently than do competitive market prices—one of the puzzling phenomena with which we began this chapter. The prices of corn, soybeans, pork bellies, and silver—all commodities that trade in markets with large numbers of buyers and sellers—change second by second. But

EXERCISE: In the graph, how much below maximum profit is total profit under sales maximization? Variants of this model were constructed by Hall and Hitch in England and by Sweezy in the United States. See R. L. Hall and C. J. Hitch, “Price Theory and Business Behavior,” Oxford Economic Papers 2 (May 1939), pp. 12–45; and P. M. Sweezy, “Demand under Conditions of Oligopoly,” Journal of Political Economy 47 (August 1939), pp. 568–573. 5 6

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products supplied by oligopolists, such as cars, televisions, and refrigerators, usually change prices only every few months or even more rarely. These products seem to resist frequent price changes, even in inflationary periods. One reason for such “sticky” prices may be that when an oligopolist cuts its product’s price, it can never predict how rival companies will react. One extreme possibility is that Firm Y will ignore Firm X’s price cut; that is, Firm Y’s price will not change. Alternatively, Firm Y may reduce its price, precisely matching that of Firm X. Accordingly, the model of oligopolistic behavior we discuss next uses two different demand curves. One curve represents the quantities a given oligopolistic firm can sell at different prices if competitors match its price moves, and the other demand curve represents what will happen if competitors stubbornly stick to their initial price levels. Point A in Figure 4 represents our firm’s initial price and output: 1,000 units at $8 each. Two demand curves, DD and dd, pass through point A. DD represents our company’s demand if competitors keep their prices fixed, and dd indicates what happens when competitors match our firm’s price changes. Of the two, the DD curve is the more elastic (flatter with demand, more responsive to price changes), and a moment’s thought indicates why this should be so. If our firm cuts its price from its initial level of $8 to, say, $7, and if competitors do not match this cut, we would expect our firm to get a large number of new customers—perhaps its quantity demanded will jump to 1,400 units. However, if its competitors respond by also reducing their prices, its quantity demanded will rise by less—perhaps only to 1,100 units (more inelastic demand curve dd). Similarly, when it raises its price, our firm may expect a larger customer flight to its rivals if those rivals fail to match its price increase, and this is indicated by the relative flatness (elasticity) of the curve DD in Figure 4, as compared to dd, the firm’s demand curve when rivals do match our firm’s price changes. How does this relate to sticky oligopolistic prices? The economists who designed this model hypothesized that a typical oligopolistic firm has good reason to fear the worst. If Firm X lowers its prices its rivals will be forced to do the same, because otherwise X’s price cut will steal away many of its competitors’ customers. The inelastic demand curve, dd (that applies when competitors copy X’s price cut), will therefore be the relevant curve if Firm X decides on a price reduction (points below and to the right of point A). If, on the contrary, Firm X chooses to increase its price, management fears that its rivals will respond quite differently than they would to a price cut. The price-raising

F I GURE 4 The Kinked Demand Curve

Price

d

D $8 7

A D (Competitors’ prices are fixed)

(Competitors d respond to price changes)

0

1,000

1,100

1,400

Quantity per Year

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Firm X will fear that its rivals will continue to sit at their old price levels, calmly collecting customers as they flee from X’s higher prices. Thus, this time, for price increases, the relevant demand curve (above A) will be DD, not dd. In sum, our firm will figure that it will face a segment of the elastic demand curve DD if it raises its price and a segment of the inelastic demand curve dd if it decreases its price. Its true demand curve will then be given by the heavy brick-colored line, DAd. For obvious reasons, it is called a kinked demand curve. The kinked demand curve represents a “heads you lose, tails you lose” proposition in terms of any potential price changes. If a firm raises its price, it will lose many customers (because in that case rivals will [may] not follow, so X’s demand is elastic); if it lowers its price, the sales increase will be comparatively small (because then rivals can be expected to have to match the cut, so X’s demand is inelastic). In these circumstances, neither a price cut nor a price rise seems beneficial, and management will vary its price only under extreme provocation—that is, only if its costs change enormously. Figure 5 illustrates this conclusion graphically. The two demand curves, DD and dd, are carried over precisely from Figure 4. The dashed line labeled MR is the marginal revenue curve associated with DD, whereas the solid line labeled mr is the marginal revenue curve associated with dd. The marginal revenue curve relevant to the firm’s decision making is MR for any output level below 1,000 units, but mr for any output level above 1,000 units. Therefore, the composite marginal revenue curve facing the firm is shown by the gold-highlighted line DBCmr with two slopes. The marginal cost curve drawn in the diagram cuts this composite marginal revenue curve at point E, which indicates the profit-maximizing combination of output and price for this oligopolist. Specifically, the quantity supplied at point E is 1,000 units, and the price is $8, which we read from the brick-colored demand curve DAd. The unique aspect of this diagram is that the kinked demand curve leads to a marginal revenue curve that takes a sharp plunge between points B and C. Consequently, even if the MC curve shifts moderately upward or downward, it will still intersect the marginal revenue curve somewhere between B and C and thus will not lead the firm to change its output decision. Therefore, the firm’s price will remain unchanged. (Try this for yourself in Figure 5.) Oligopoly prices are “sticky,” then, in the sense that they do not respond to minor cost changes. Only cost changes large enough to push the MC curve out of the BC range will lead to price changes.

A kinked demand curve is a demand curve that changes its slope abruptly at some level of output.

A price is called sticky if it does not change often, even when there is a moderate change in cost.

FI GURE 5 d

The Kinked Demand Curve and Sticky Prices

MC

Price

D A $8 B

D

E MR

d

C 1,000

mr Quantity Supplied per Year

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If this is, in fact, the way oligopolists view their competitors’ behavior, we can easily see why they may be reluctant to make frequent price changes. We can also understand why price leadership may arise. The price-leader firm can raise prices at will, confident that the firm will not be left out on a limb (a kink?) by other firms’ unwillingness to follow.

The Game Theory Approach In 1944, the mathematician John von Neumann (1903–1957) and the economist Oskar Morgenstern (1902–1977) contributed a new approach to oligopoly analysis called game theory. Game theory is now economists’ most widely used analysis of oligopoly behavior. The theory deals with the issue of interdependence directly, taking for granted that the managers of business firms make decisions on the assumption that rival managers are also strategic decision makers. In this model, each oligopolist acts as a competing player in a strategic game. A payoff matrix shows Game theory uses two fundamental concepts: strategy and the payoff matrix. A strathow much each of two egy represents a participant’s operational plan. In its simplest form, it may refer to just competitors (players) can one possible decision, such as “Add to my product line a new car model that features a expect to earn, depending DVD player for backseat passengers,” or “Cut the price of my car to $19,500.” The payon the strategic choices off matrix will be explained presently. For simplicity’s sake, we will follow the frequent each of them makes. practice in discussions of game theory and focus on an oligopoly with just two firms—a duopoly. An example will help to explain the analysis. Imagine that the market for telecommunications on a low-income Caribbean island is about to be entered by two cell phone service providers. Say that patent restrictions and other impediments mean that the two companies each have a choice between only one of two cell phones: (1) an expensive, high-tech phone that would have to be sold at a price that gives the seller a low profit TAB LE 1 margin or (2) a cheaper, low-tech phone with a high profit margin. Furthermore, under Firm A’s Payoff Matrix this island government’s rules, each firm is required to offer the same phone and price for in a Game with a Domtwo years. Table 1 illustrates the resulting payoff matrix for one of the two inant Strategy players in this game, Firm A. Firm This matrix shows how the profits that Firm A can expect to earn B depend on the strategy that its sole rival, Firm B, adopts. The choice open Strategy to each firm is to select one of the two available strategies—either the Low-tech High-tech “low-tech, high-markup” cell phone or the “high-tech, low-markup” cell phone—without knowing the strategy that the other will choose. The $10m $–2m Low-tech matrix is read like a mileage chart. It shows, for example, that if Firm A Firm A chooses the high-tech option (second row of the matrix) and Firm B selects Strategy the low-tech option (left-hand column), then A will earn $12 million (lower left-hand square). It also shows the profit payoff to Firm A when it or its $12m $3m High-tech rival makes different choices between the two strategies that each firm has available.

Games with Dominant Strategies A dominant strategy for one of the competitors in a game is a strategy that will yield a higher payoff than any of the other strategies that are possible, no matter what choice of strategy is made by competitors.

How does game theory analyze Firm A’s optimal strategic choice? There are a number of related methods. The most direct way is to search for what is called a dominant strategy, though, as we will see, it is possible that no such strategy may be available to one or both of the firms. A dominant strategy is defined as one that gives the bigger payoff to the firm that selects it, no matter which of the two strategies the competitor happens to choose. As we just said, not all games have such a dominant strategy, but the one illustrated in Table 1 does. Let us see how we know this. Consider Firm A’s decision. Either company can select either the high-tech or the lowtech strategy. Whichever choice B makes, there are two possible profit outcomes for A

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depending on which strategy it selects. For example, if B selects low-tech, A will either earn $10 million or $12 million, depending on its strategy choice (see the left-hand column of Table 1). So the high-tech strategy, with its $12 million payoff, is clearly A’s better decision if B selects low-tech. But what if B turns out to pick high-tech, instead? In that case, we see from the right-hand column of the matrix that if A offers the low-tech product, it will lose $2 million, whereas with that same choice by firm B, A could earn $3 million in profit by choosing high-tech (the lower right-hand entry). So high-tech is again the better choice for A. Clearly, the high-tech option is a dominant strategy for firm A, because it will give A a higher profit than the low-tech choice no matter which option firm B selects. Now let us expand the payoff matrix to show simultaneously the earnings of both firms—not, as before, only those of Firm A. In Table 2, this combined payoff matrix reports the profits that each firm can expect to Low-tech earn, given its own pricing choice and that of its rival. For example, the upper-left square indicates that if both firms decide to offer the low-tech, Firm A high-markup model, both A and B will earn $10 million. We also see that if Strategy one firm brings in the high-tech model, whereas the other does not, the High-tech high-tech supplier will actually raise its profit to $12 million (presumably by capturing more sales) and drive its rival to a $2 million loss. However, if both firms offer the high-tech model, each will be left with a modest $3 million profit. EXERCISE: Use the same reasoning as above to show that high-tech is also the dominant strategy for Firm B. Because both firms have a dominant strategy in this example, and it is the same for both, they can both be expected to select it. Each will therefore end up offering the hightech cell phone, and each will earn $3 million per year. This example has important implications for policy, because it shows just how competition can force business firms to behave in the way that most benefits consumers, even though it is not the most profitable for the firms. In this example, both firms would have profited most by offering the lower-quality, higher-markup equipment. If they had both chosen the low-tech strategy, they would each have earned $10 million, but at the consumers’ expense. However, the presence of a competitor, with its unknown choice, forces each firm to protect itself by choosing the dominant strategy, offering the better (hightech) product, even though they end up each earning only $3 million. Of course, if the market had been served by a profit-maximizing monopolist, the lone firm would have selected the more profitable low-tech option, and the public would have been denied the better-quality product.

TABLE 2 The Two-Firm Payoff Matrix in a Game with Dominant Strategies Firm B Strategy Low-tech

High-tech

A gets $10m A gets $–2m B gets $10m B gets $12m

A gets $12m A gets $3m B gets $–2m B gets $3m

The Moral of the Story: A market that is a duopoly, that is, a two-firm oligopoly, may serve the public interest better than a monopoly because of the competition between the two duopolists.

Notice that each firm’s fear of what its rival will do virtually forces it to offer the high-tech product and to forgo the higher ($10 million) profit that it could earn if it could trust the other to stick to a lower-quality product. This example illustrates why many observers conclude that, particularly where the number of firms is small, companies should not be permitted to confer or exchange information on prices or product quality. If the two rivals were allowed to collude and act like a monopolist, consumers would be damaged in two ways: They would have to pay more in order to provide the resulting additional profits and, besides, as usually is expected to happen under a monopoly, consumers would get smaller quantities of the products, which may be of lower quality. Games whose payoff matrices have dominant strategies like that in Table 2 have many other interesting applications. They illustrate how people can get trapped into making both themselves and their rivals worse off. For example, a matrix with the same pattern of payoffs applies to people driving polluting cars in the absence of laws requiring emission

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controls. Each driver runs a polluting auto because she does not trust other drivers to install emission controls voluntarily. So if she alone goes to the expense of equipping her car with pollution controls, most of the pollution—that from all other cars—will remain in the air. She will have paid for the equipment but have gotten little or no cleaner air benefit. So they all end up with a low payoff (breathing polluted air), even though by getting together and all agreeing to do what is needed to cut emissions, they could all end up with a higher payoff in terms of better health, etc.7 Still another interpretation explains why the game in Table 2 is known as the prisoners’ dilemma. Instead of a two-firm industry, the prisoners’ dilemma involves two burglary suspects who are captured by the police and interrogated in separate rooms. Each suspect has two strategy options: to deny the charge or to confess. If both deny it, both go free, because the police have no other evidence. But if one confesses and the other does not, the silent prisoner can expect the key to his cell to be thrown away while the talker gets off with a light sentence. The dominant solution for each prisoner, then, is to confess and receive the light sentence that results from this choice. The prisoners’ dilemma story confirms the important economic point we made earlier. The reason the two prisoners are both driven to confess, and to bring themselves to justice, is that they are not allowed to communicate and so they do not trust one another. Otherwise, they would collude and promise each other not to confess. The same thing applies to a duopoly. The public interest requires that the duopolists be banned from colluding. If they were permitted to get together and agree on a high price and low-cost, low-quality products, they would earn monopoly profits and the public would suffer the consequences. The Moral of the Story: It is damaging to the public interest to permit rival firms to collude and to make joint decisions on what prices to charge for their similar products and what quality of product to supply.

The maximin criterion requires a player to select the strategy that yields the maximum payoff on the assumption that the opponent will do as much damage as it can.

Games without Dominant Strategies

We have already observed that games need not offer dominant strategies. An example is easy to provide. For simplicity, Table 3 again shows only the payoffs for Firm A, but this time the hypothetical payoff numbers are different from those in Table 1. With these new numbers, neither a low-tech nor a high-tech choice is a dominant strategy for A. Suppose A chooses to go with the low-tech product. Then, if B also happens to select low-tech, A will find itself better off (at a $10 million payoff) than if it had chosen a TAB LE 3 high-tech product (profit 5 $3 million). But if B goes the other way and offers the hightech product, A’s payoff will be worse ($7 million) with a low-tech prodFirm A’s Payoff Matrix in a Game without a uct than with one that is high-tech ($8 million payoff). Which of the two Dominant Strategy options is better for A depends on B’s unforeseeable strategy choice. NeiFirm ther choice by A offers it foolproof protection, so neither of A’s possible B strategies is dominant. Strategy The decision for A in Table 3 is now much harder than it was before. How Low-tech High-tech can it go about selecting a strategy? One solution proposed in game theory is called the maximin criterion. In this strategy, we may envision the man$10m $7m Low-tech agement of Firm A reasoning as follows: “If I choose a low-tech strategy, the worst that can happen to me is that my competitor will select the high-tech Firm A counterstrategy, which will make my return $7 million (the brick-colored Strategy number in the first row of the payoff matrix). Similarly, if I select a high-tech $3m $8m High-tech strategy, the worst possible outcome for me is a $3 million profit” (the brickcolored minimum payoff in the second row of the matrix). How can the

7

EXERCISE: Make up a payoff matrix that tells this story.

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managers of Firm A best protect their company from trouble in these circumstances? Game theory suggests that it may be rational to select a strategy based on comparison of the two minimum payoffs offered by the two different strategies. If the firm’s managers want to cut down the risk, they should pick what can be interpreted as an insurance-policy approach. They should select the strategy that will guarantee them the highest of these undesirable minimum payoffs. In other words, expecting the worst outcome for any strategy choice it makes, Firm A should pick the strategy that promises the best of those bad outcomes. In this case, the maximin strategy for Firm A is to offer the low-tech product, whose worst possible outcome is $7 million, whereas the worst outcome if it selects the high-tech product is a profit of only $3 million.

Other Strategies: The Nash Equilibrium We can interpret the maximin strategy as a pessimist’s way to deal with uncertainty. A player who adopts this strategy assumes that the worst will always happen: No matter what move she makes, her opponent will adopt the countermove that does her the most damage. The maximin strategy neglects the possibility that opponents will not have enough information to find out the most damaging countermove. It also ignores the possibility of finding common ground, as when two competitors collude to extract monopoly profit from consumers. Other strategies are less pessimistic, yet still rational. One of the most analytically useful strategies leads to what is called a Nash equilibrium. The mathematician John Nash devised this strategy, for which he won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1994 (after a long period of schizophrenia).8 The basic idea is simple. In a two-player game, suppose that each firm is trying to decide whether to adopt a blue or a red package for its product. Assume that each firm earns a higher profit if it selects a package color that differs from the other’s. Then, if Firm X happens to select a red package, it will obviously be most profitable for Y to select a blue package. Moreover, it will pay each firm to stick with that choice, because blue is Y’s most profitable response to X’s choice of red, and vice versa. In general, a Nash equilibrium describes a situation in which both players adopt moves such that each player’s move is the most profitable response to the other player’s move. Often, no such mutually accommodating solution is possible, but where it is possible, if both players realize this fact and act accordingly, they may both be able to benefit. For example, note how much worse off both firms would be in the preceding example if Firm Y were determined to damage Firm X, at whatever the cost to itself, and adopted a red package, just like X’s.

A Nash equilibrium results when each player adopts the strategy that gives the highest possible payoff if the rival sticks to the strategy it has chosen.

A zero-sum game is one in which exactly the amount one competitor gains must be lost by other competitors.

Zero-Sum Games

TABLE 4

There is a special but significant situation involving a simple form of payoff matrix that has even been taken up in popular parlance. It is called a zero-sum game. The idea is a simple one and is a useful way to think about many issues. A zero-sum game is one in which whatever one player gains, the other must lose. Thus, when one adds up all the gains and losses, the sum is always zero. If I pick your pocket and find $80 in cash, you are $80 poorer and I am $80 richer, so that the sum of the positive gains and negative losses is clearly zero. But if the money was in a wallet with your driver’s license and credit cards, and I take the money out and then throw the wallet into a river, it is evidently not zero-sum. You have lost not only the money but also the time and cost of replacing the license and credit cards, whereas I have gained only the money. The payoff matrix of a zero-sum game has a very simple structure. Table 4 provides an example:

Zero-Sum Payoff Matrix

8

Firm B Strategy Strategy 1

Strategy 2

Strategy 1 A gets $10m A gets $–2m B gets 0 B gets $12m Firm A Strategy Strategy 2

A gets $4m A gets $7m B gets $6m B gets $3m

As described in the 2001 movie A Beautiful Mind, which was based on the book by Sylvia Nasar.

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Markets and the Price System

The special feature of this matrix is that the payoffs of the two firms add up to $10 million in each and every payoff square. For example, in the lower left-hand square of Table 4, Firm A’s payoff is $4 million and Firm B’s payoff is $6 million, for a total of $10 million. You can verify that the sum of the two payoffs is $10 million in each of the other three cells, as well. So if A gains by a strategy change, this must occur, to the penny, at B’s expense. If A gains $734, B must lose exactly $734. The following example will bring out the importance of understanding the zero-sum case as a way to avoid fallacious analysis. It was once thought that international trade was a zero-sum game, because it was believed that each trading nation’s objective was to get as much gold as possible from other countries in payment for their purchases. If Brazil ships coffee to France, and the French shippers pay 10,000 ounces of gold for the shipment, then on this view of the matter, Brazil has gained and France has lost exactly the same amount—making it a zero-sum transaction. But a little thought tells us that this view is naïve, because it leaves the coffee shipment itself out of the calculation. Trade is not just about money but also about the goods and services that are traded. If France is too cold to grow good coffee, and Brazil is too hot to produce good wine, and the populations of both countries prefer coffee in the morning and wine in the evening, then it is clear that both will be better off as the result of an exchange of wine for coffee. The game of international trade is far from zero-sum. This is something that must be kept in mind when we consider contentious trade-related issues such as globalization and outsourcing, which will be discussed in Chapter 34.

Repeated Games

A repeated game is one that is played a number of times.

The scenarios described so far involve one-time transactions, as when a tourist passes through a city and makes a purchase at a store that he will never visit again. Most business transactions are different. A firm usually sells its products day after day, often to repeat buyers. It must continuously review its pricing decisions, knowing that its rivals are likely to gain information from any repeated behavioral patterns and adapt their response. The important concept of repeated games also offers significant additional insights about the competitive process under oligopoly. Repeated games give all of the players the opportunity to learn something about each other’s behavior patterns and, perhaps, to arrive at mutually beneficial arrangements. By adopting a fairly clear pricing behavior pattern, each firm can attain a reputation that elicits desired responses from competitors. We return to the example of the product introduction war between Firm A and Firm B to show how this approach works. When we studied the payoff matrix for that game, we assumed that in a single play in which neither player knew anything about the other’s behavior pattern, each player was likely to feel forced to adopt its dominant strategy. In other words, each firm offered the low-profit, high-tech product for fear that if it adopted the potentially more profitable low-tech product, its rival would adopt a high-tech product and take customers away. In that way, both firms would end up with low profits. When games are repeated, the players may be able to escape such a trap. For example, Firm A can cultivate a reputation for selecting a strategy called “tit for tat.” Each time Firm B chooses a high-tech product, Firm A responds by also introducing a high-tech product next time, with its limited profit. Firm A also follows a similar repeating strategy if B’s product choice is low-tech. After a few repetitions, B will learn that A always matches its decisions. B will then see that it is better off sticking to a more profitable low-tech product. Firm A, too, benefits from its tit-for-tat approach, which will lead both, eventually, to stick permanently to the more profitable low-tech products. In practice, this amounts to tacit collusion. The two competing firms never actually get together to reach a joint decision on product price and quality, behavior that is illegal. But

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Chapter 12

they watch one another’s behavior in their repeated game, and each eventually learns to adapt itself and go along with the other’s behavior—which may be anticompetitive and damaging to consumer interests but offers monopoly profits to the tacit colluders. The courts do not have a clear response to this behavior, because it is difficult to argue that firms should not consider all publicly and legitimately available information about its rivals, or that firms should not take this observed rival behavior into consideration when they make their own decisions.

Threats and Credibility A player can also use threats to induce rivals to change their behavior. The trouble is that, if carried out, the threat may well damage both parties. For example, a retailer can threaten to double its output and drive prices down near zero if a rival imitates its product. However, the rival is unlikely to believe the threat, because such a low price harms the threatener as much as the threatened. Such a threat is simply not credible, with one exception. The p